Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Thoughts on the Refining Reason: Matt Dillahunty vs. Sye TenBruggencate

Matt Dillahunty recently debated Sye Ten Bruggencate in Memphis, TN, in the good old U.S. of A. I watched it specifically because I have been interested in how others attempt to respond to the Presuppositionalist position, which amounts to little more than a lofty conceit. 

If you haven't seen the video, please watch it (but only if you really, seriously, honestly, have nothing better to do). It's rather long, but it's very interesting for various reasons I'll get to.


If you're not familiar, the Presuppositionalist position is that God exists, or rather, they say we KNOW God exists. Thus, via this one presupposition they can get the whole of the Christian worldview off the ground.

The argument is designed to challenge the philosophical and methodological views of naturalism, because under the naturalistic paradigm one has to presuppose more than God to explain things like knowledge, reason, morality, cognitive ability, etc. Actually, under the naturalistic wordlview, each one of these requires their own presuppositions, or related assumptions, to get off the ground.

Thus, Presuppositionalists claim that the naturalistic worldview is overly complicated, and thus faulty, because it acts like a Rube Goldberg machine, needlessly multiplying assumptions to get to conclusions which simply fall out of the Presuppositionalist's singular assumption that God is real.

If God is real, then the Christian worldview is true, and therefore morality and cognition all derive from God. Simple. To the point.

Sye Ten Bruggencate (STB or Sye from hereon) opened the debate with a syllogistic definition of Presuppositionalism which went something like this:

1. It is reasonable to believe that which is true.

2. It is true that God exists.

3. Therefore it is reasonable to believe in God. 

Now, syllogisms are fine, because they are a way to structure ideas in a hierarchy to help us check if the conclusions logically fall out of the previous assumptions. If not, then the syllogism loses it's coherence and you end up devolving into a fallacy or end with an illogical/faulty claim.

Yet syllogisms, although having a logical structure, do not necessarily mean the idea the syllogism is putting forth is logically valid. That is, via inductive reasoning the logic is valid but the argument is unsound because one of the premises is probably not true.

1. It is reasonable to believe that which is true.

2. It is true that all women love Tristan Vick.

3. Therefore it is reasonable to believe that all the women on the planet love Tristan Vick.


As Sye's syllogism goes, the first premise is fine. I can get on board with the claim that it is reasonable to believe in things that are true.

The second claim, however, needs unpacking--because it is smuggling in extra assumptions that need to be shown to follow the logical hierarchy of the syllogism. How do we know it is true that God exists? We don't know. Something is missing here. 

Clearly, Sye has not shown how it is "true" that God exists so we have no reason to believe it is true God exists, thus the syllogism is faulty because we cannot get back to it is reasonable to believe that which is true.

Granted, this is what Sye presupposes. But presupposing something doesn't make it true. I could presuppose, for example, that the world if flat, or that the sun revolves around the Earth, and this would not make my presuppositions valid. They would still be wrong.


Which is why Matt kept asking Sye to demonstrate the link between the presupposition God exist and the claim it is true God exists.

It seems, however, that Matt's challenge went over Sye's head. Or else, Sye simply doesn't think presuppositions need post hoc justifications. But Matt's not wrong. 

The reason why we would want to justify any given presupposition of ours is to check it against the evidence to see if what we presupposed was indeed the case. Although Sye would never admit it, presuppositions can, in the grand scheme of things, still be wrong.


I thought Matt did exceptionally well in this debate, and the trick he used was simple, yet effective. Every time Sye pushed the question on whether Matt knew for certain any given claim, Matt said he believed that he knew.

Matt when through great pains to show what a maximal truth claim was as opposed to an absolute truth claim, and he demonstrated that holding maximal truths gets us far enough to saying something is true, even though we could never prove it absolutely.


This also seemed to go over Sye's head.

There was a lot more content in this video, and I do recommend watching it, if not simply to get a good idea of how to respond to presuppositionalist claims. But what I want to talk about next are some of the appalling things that came out of Sye Ten Bruggencate's mouth.

During the Q&A time with the audience an audience member asked him if he thought Democracy was the best political system available and Sye said no, that he thought theocracy was the best possible political system.

Yikes! Right?

Sye also gave his refutation to a Muslim gentleman, or a man posing a question as a Muslim would (it wasn't clear if he was actually Muslim or just trying to make a point) by asking that if Sye feels the Bible is the world of God and an authority, why wouldn't he allow for the Koran to be the word of God and an authority?

Sye goes through a quick logical evaluation of what the Koran says about the Bible (namely that it was a previous divine revelation from God) and Sye asks, rhetorically, why a Muslim wouldn't accept the Bible ask God's word, and informs they would say the Bible is corrupted. But because of the Koran's claim that the Bible is true, and the Bible claims there can be no other revelations from God and that all others are false-revelations, he then declares the Koran false/invalid.

But that's where he conveniently ends the critical evaluation. If he would have taken it one step further, he would have run into a problem. If the Koran is false, as Sye claims, then when it says the Bible is true would, as a consequence, also be false. Therefore the Bible is false.

But nobody said Sye was a good critical thinker.

When some audience members tried to quiz Sye on some apparent Bible contradictions he dodged, ducking their questions by saying, "I don't do Bible studies with atheists."

Why not? Earlier he said there was no such thing as an atheist, since according to Sye's version of Presuppositionalism everyone knows God exists. But what's more we know it is the Christian God.  As such, Sye holds that atheists are just Christians in denial. I'm sure Sye would stress that they're, technically speaking, just theists not yet fully Christian (in the sense they haven't accepted Jesus into their heathen hearts). But this is beside the point, because if we really did know the Christian God is real, as Sye claims, we wouldn't be confused theists, just Christians in denial. So why won't Sye do bible studies with Christians in denial?

Which raises another pressing concern. If we're all secretly Christians deep down inside, how does Sye tell the difference between a regular ole Christian and a Christian in denial if he refuses to sit down with us? His logic truly baffles the mind.

As it is, it's obvious that Sye just didn't want to answer pressing questions that revealed faults in the holy book he presupposes is the flawless divine revelation of God.

One more thing that shows Sye is dishonest, apart from being rude to atheists, and being overly conceited by believing his position if inviolable and without need of justification, is the way he deliberately went out of his way to use video clips, taken out of context and re-arranged, to make Matt look like he contradicts himself or is confused. There is not reason for Sye to make his opponent look bad, since Sye could have challenged Matt on any of the points taken from the video snippets and simply have asked him during the back and forth exchanges, all four of them. Instead, Sye spent much of his time trying to proselytize to the audience. 

But when you have a mainly secular audience, the majority of which are atheists and agnostics, starting out by saying they all *know God exists, even though they're atheists, and that they are lying to themselves and will all go to Hell, is probably not the best way to get the audience on your side in the debate. 

But this only goes to show how callous Sye is, and demonstrates he is virtually without any sense of empathy whatsoever. A problem many extremely religious minded types seem to have.

There is a lot more to be said about this debate, but go ahead and watch it, that is, if you want to waste two hours of your life. Although, if you have better things to do, then by all means, do that instead!



Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist