An iPod is a wonderful thing for long car trips. So this past week I listened to a podcast of a debate on the Infidel Guy radio show. It was an hour and a half long and often exasperating, so I wouldn’t have sat through it otherwise. The debate was between FFRF‘s Dan Barker and Paul Manata, a Christian and presuppositionalist.

Anyway, let me get to the exasperating part. The whole thing made me wonder if it’s at all useful to even try and talk to some people, and presuppositionalists like Manata might be a good example of people with whom I’d have a very hard time to get any dialogue going. I don’t mean that Manata came across as especially irrational or pigheaded or anything (a perfectly sane and nice guy, as far as I can tell) — it’s more interesting than that. It’s that I see very little common ground that could help us start a fruitful discussion. It would be too much work to get to anything more than a few preliminaries.

Manata, like many presuppositionalists (and quite a few other styles of theistic apologists as well) sounded like we would not share much of a common idea of rationality, truth, what have you. In particular, he seemed very enamored of a traditional style of armchair philosophizing, and he seemed very much on a quest for certainty. If I were to try and have a conversation with him, I wouldn’t know where to begin. After all, my background is as someone very much brainwashed into a secular and scientific way of thinking, where I don’t expect much in the way of certainty, and I’m not much impressed by armchair metaphysics. As I said, too much work to be worthwhile — I mean, what the hell would it achieve?

Oh well, I’m off traveling again, and I’ll probably be quiet for the next three weeks…

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Jim Lazarus

    Hi Taner,

    Long time no talk.

    Well, a crucial element of presuppositional apologetics is that there *is* a common ground, and Manata would emphasize the common ground that you both have, I think, if he were asked about it. The point he would try to make to you, though, is that there is no *neutral ground* – i.e. there are no significant aspects of the world that are neutral in essence when it comes to the whole debate over God. Manata would probably agree with many of the things you have to say about ethics, rationality, and science, but his point is very simple: the intelligibility of any of these things is dependent upon a theistic view of the world. And yes, he’s very much on “a quest for certainty”, because that is what his transcendental argument is supposed to provide: certain knowledge that Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.

    Finally, I’m not quite sure which part of his opening or which parts of his rebuttal you feel amount to “armchair metaphysics”. What I heard was a lot of talk about epistemology, induction, and some discussion about philosophy of mind.

    - Laz

  • Taner Edis

    Well, trying to establish all that is a classic case of trying to get a significant handle on reality by pure reason, from the comfort of your armchair.

  • Hallq

    As far as winning a debate like this goes, all you’d have to do is point out a couple of areas where his argument doesn’t make sense and then explain why scientific methodology works

  • Paul Manata

    Hi Taner,

    Laz is correct about the common ground we’d share, there is common ground but that ground is not neutral. Indeed, given my view of the world, since all of creation is God’s, there is not one square inch of reality that the King does not own. So, to pretend as if there is a neutral common ground is to assume that my worldview is false, i.e., that all ground is not God’s ground.

    Now, I don’t know why you’d claim I’m trying to get a handle on reality by “pure reason.” Did I admit to such in my debate? I’m actually just as much against rationalism as I am against empiricism. I’d actually be more in line with something like John Frame proposes in “The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.” I use my senses to find out about the world, because God gave them to me in order to have dominion over creation. I use my reason as well, as a tool God has given me, always in submission to him. But, ultimately, I don’t try to reason my way to a foundation, I begin by presupposing that the house of human knowledge already has a foundation. That is, I already have the answers in the back of the book. Put differently, I have God’s revealed world telling me about reality, my place in the world, and how I should live my life. Thus I presuppose a certain view of reality, from the get go.

    As far as the debate goes, I made an argument that my worldview must be presupposed in order to make sense of (or, fit within your worldview) some basic agreed upon paradigms of rationality.

    My rebuttal critiqued Barker’s FANG argument, his conceptualism, his functionalism, his pragmatic justification for induction, and his arbitrary relativistic view of morality. I then put forth, in the brief time I had, three arguments for my worldview.

    Dan’s rebuttal did not address my critique of FANG, conceptualism, functionalism, his appeal to pragmatism to defend induction, nor my three positive arguments. Rather he said I reified logic and morality, Calvin was a meanie, and so therefore Christianity was, somehow, irrational.

    In my closing I brought more arguments to bear, pointed out Barker did not interact with any of my critiques of his opening argument (or his admissions in our cross exam), and used an argument he tried to use against me against him. I then called him to repentence.

    In his closing he again did not deal with the arguments I made during my rebuttal or closing. He said he’d tell Jesus and the Father to “go to hell” and that Christianity was immoral, according to his subjective opinion of right and wrong, and so, therefore, Christianity was somehow irrational.

    Frankly I didn’t get it. You may disagree with my position, but as far as the debate goes, what did you think?

  • Mark Plus

    I guess according to presuppositionalism we have to presuppose the existence of the christian god to make the process of evolution intelligible. Otherwise we’d have all this empirical evidence for evolution that we can’t account for.

  • Paul Manata

    or we could just agree that it’s naive to think there’s theory-independant observation

  • Jim Lippard

    Paul, see ch. 7 of Philip Kitcher’s _The Advancement of Science: Science without Legend, Objectivity without Illusions_ (1993, Oxford Univ. Press).

    Theory-dependence of observation should not be overblown to a position that any observation can be accomodated by any theory.

  • John W. Loftus

    I provided a critique of Manata’s debate performance here. Manata called me “Barker’s Bulldog.”

  • John W. Loftus

    Probably the most knowledgable critique of presuppositionalism can be found in the writings of a former blog member of mine here.

  • Frank Walton

    Hiyah Johnny, I gave my assessment here. Barker said that our life is like broccoli, that questioning induction is stupid, and the laws of logic don’t exist. Brother, would it be hard to have a serious conversation with someone who assumes that!

  • Jim Lazarus

    I likewise wrote a review of the debate, which can be read here:

  • Sonny Craig

    Hey, fellas, if you want an intelligent presentation of Presuppositional Creationism, you have to talk to the source, ME.

    Jim Lippard might remember me, but it’s been oh, about 12 years….

    Everybody else just uses the title of my system, but they don’t understand it, and even if they were smart enough to grasp the profundity of the issues at hand…, they couldn’t GO THERE!…theologically or intellectually, the Pezzonovante of the Church (since the First Vatican Council and also Calvin’s Institutes) exalted the Thomist school of philosophy which of course became the soul of Western Thought….and from whence you get creationists who are obsessed with a misappropriated application of strong evidentialism in apoogetics….

    And, Presuppositional Creationism can only be understood in the context of another seminal theory of mine, The Hypothetical Question… (“What would the world look like, from a Biblical view, if Adam HADN’T sinned? What if he obeyed? In a Creation with no FALL, What would your physics models look like? You’re history, your biology, your sociology, your cosmology, etc, etc?” Answer that, extrapolate THAT, and then you’ll have a REAL Creation Model….

    but this concept (I took an undeveloped idea from Scotus and filled in the missing thinking) which solves the Free-Will/theodicy problem, is bound up in the Creation problem from page 1 of the Bible. But it too appears to threaten the shiboleth of Christian Cultism (the centrality of the Cross) so they called this HERETICAL as well….Go figure….

    I can help them solve the two biggest glaring problems of modern Christian epistemology:

    1) their lack of a rational (meaning rational from the view of Genesis) doctrine (model) of Creation;

    2) and their lack of a rational answer to the problem of Evil;

    (I suggesting that christian etiology is missing a reasoned defense of the TWO BIGGEST FUNDAMENTAL ARGUMENTS OF FAITH)

    And what do they do??????

    Well, 12 years later….they took my lead….sort of….they use the word “presupposition” a lot… stupid word….with no comprehension of how to use it properly….

    “All you Evil Scientists have presuppositions that stop you from seeing dee TRUT!….that’s yer problem…, if you will just come with me as we tour the Cre-a-Shun Museum, we’ll get them Prepositions alll straightened out for ya’ll…..!!!!”

    You think you are frustrated with this?


    What I would give to be able to just become a Secularist and end my SPIRITUAL ANGST!!! AGGGHH!!!


  • Sonny Craig

    One more comment, there seems to also be a very nasty habit of these Christians to speak as if there is only one form of Presuppositionalism (PA), the Van Tillian form (hence, neutrality becomes the central distraction).

    However, as many of you are aware of, there are many forms of this system, and the most useful (other than mine, of course, which actually answers the ancillary problems everybody else ignores) is Francis Schaffer’s Middle Way.

    I knew Schaeffer when he was alive, and he would be ashamed of how the Church has thrown their brains out the window after he .

    I also have known Rushdoony and many other Reformed Calvinist Supralapsarians in my three decades of torture as a Christian thinker, and believe me, this problem of a lack of Christian clarity can be directly traced backwards through that Calvinist/Thomist/Augustinian choice of the Church to adopt an inferior dogmatic apologetic methodology…..when they could have chosen a better path…

    Why didn’t they?

    Same reason Washington politicians stand up on TV everyday and tell us a bunch of BS….

    But just because there’s idiots in charge…that doesn’t mean Government can’t ever work….or that the Christian can never present an answer to the secular critic.

    I can. The ironic thing about that was it took a bunch of guys like Jim to help me get there…

    Isn’t that funny?

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