The Absurdity of Presuppositional Apologetics

“It has been theorized that humans are susceptible to self-deception because most people have emotional attachments to beliefs, which in some cases may be irrational. Some evolutionary biologists, such as Robert Trivers, have suggested that deception plays a significant part in human behavior, and in animal behavior, more generally speaking. One deceives oneself to trust something that is not true as to better convince others of that truth. When a person convinces her or himself of this untrue thing, s/he better mask the signs of deception.”

From a 2012 discussion with a presuppositional apologetic, Sye TenBruggencate.

Key points and discussion summaries.

Sye rejects randomness in nature:

He is wrong.

Probability plays a role in many natural occurrences. As such, a number of patterns in nature have shown to exhibit random behavior. Events whose outcomes are uncertain pose a higher degree of unpredictability than events that appear non-random in nature. In any case, this does not mean that random occurrences function independently from the laws of nature. For instance, if you roll a football down a mountain side, its precise path may be random, but it will still roll in a downwards direction until it reaches the bottom. The football won’t fly into the air or turn into a bird, as it still operates under the provisions of natural law. Nevertheless, you can try this experiment over and over again, and yet there will be no way to predict its exact path based on prior knowledge.

Examples of randomness from Physics:

According to several standard interpretations of quantum mechanics, microscopic phenomena are objectively random. That is, in an experiment where all causally relevant parameters are controlled, there will still be some aspects of the outcome which vary randomly. An example of such an experiment is placing a single unstable atom in a controlled environment; it cannot be predicted how long it will take for the atom to decay; only the probability of decay within a given time can be calculated.” (An experimental test of non-local realism. Nature 446, 871-875 (19 April 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05677; Received 22 December 2006; Accepted 13 February 2007; “Each nucleus decays spontaneously, at random, in accordance with the blind workings of chance”. Q for Quantum, John Gribbin)

Brownian motion or pedesis is the presumably random moving of particles suspended in a fluid (a liquid or a gas) resulting from their bombardment by the fast-moving atoms or molecules in the gas or liquid. The term “Brownian motion” can also refer to the mathematical model used to describe such random movements, which is often called a particle theory. (MÄorters, Peter; Yuval Peres (25 May 2008). Brownian Motion)

brownianmotion5particles150frame

Brownian motion, courtesy Wikipedia

Chaos theory states that, under certain conditions, ordered, regular patterns can be seen to arise out of seemingly random, erratic and turbulent processes. Chaos theory does not emphasize the inherent disorder and unpredictability of a system. Instead, chaos theory emphasizes the order inherent in the system and the universal behavior of similar systems. (Kellert, Stephen H. (1993). In the Wake of Chaos: Unpredictable Order in Dynamical Systems. University of Chicago Press.)

Examples of randomness from Biology:

The modern evolutionary synthesis ascribes the observed diversity of life to natural selection, in which some random genetic mutations are retained in the gene pool due to the non-random improved chance for survival and reproduction that those mutated genes confer on individuals who possess them. The characteristics of an organism arise to some extent deterministically (e.g., under the influence of genes and the environment) and to some extent randomly. (UC Berkeley)

Quick point – evolution is not a random process. The genetic variation on which natural selection acts may occur randomly, but natural selection itself is not random.

If a population is finite in size (as all populations are) and if a given pair of parents have only a small number of offspring, then even in the absence of all selective forces, the frequency of a gene will not be exactly reproduced in the next generation because of sampling error. If in a population of 1000 individuals the frequency of “a” is 0.5 in one generation, then it may by chance be 0.493 or 0.0505 in the next generation because of the chance production of a few more or less progeny of each genotype. In the second generation, there is another sampling error based on the new gene frequency, so the frequency of “a” may go from 0.0505 to 0.501 or back to 0.498. This process of random fluctuation continues generation after generation, with no force pushing the frequency back to its initial state because the population has no “genetic memory” of its state many generations ago. Each generation is an independent event. The final result of this random change in allele frequency is that the population eventually drifts to p=1 or p=0. After this point, no further change is possible; the population has become homozygous. A different population, isolated from the first, also undergoes this random genetic drift, but it may become homozygous for allele “A”, whereas the first population has become homozygous for allele “a”. As time goes on, isolated populations diverge from each other, each losing heterozygosity. The variation originally present within populations now appears as variation between populations.” (Suzuki, D.T., Griffiths, A.J.F., Miller, J.H. and Lewontin, R.C. in An Introduction to Genetic Analysis 4th ed. W.H. Freeman 1989 p.704)

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Population bottleneck: A population bottleneck is when a population contracts to a significantly smaller size over a short period of time due to some random environmental event. (Macmillan Genetics)

Randomness is important if an animal is to behave in a way that is unpredictable to others. For instance, insects in flight tend to move about with random changes in direction, making it difficult for pursuing predators to predict their trajectories. (Wikipedia)

Here are more familiar examples:

Cancer may form as a byproduct of spontaneous errors that occur during cell division. During sexual reproduction, fertilization is determined by random details of sperm and fluid motion. The density of freckles that appear on a person’s skin is controlled by genes and exposure to light; whereas the exact location of individual freckles seems to be random. (British Journal of Dermatology 106 (1): 19–25). Galaxies are kept together by gravitational forces, yet the arrangements of stars within those galaxies are randomly distributed. And so on, and so on. No need to go any further.

It should also be noted, Mr. TenBruggencate has no experience, background, or dealings with analyzing any kind of statistical data relating to biology or physics.

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order” -Douglas Hostadter

Uniformity of nature and Biblical miracles:

Mr. TenBruggencate’s uniformity argument hurts his own stance on the existence of the Christian God.

Mr. TenBruggencate himself stated that, “the fundamental assumption of science is induction, or ‘the uniformity of nature,’ or, quite basically, the assumption that the future will be, or will even probably be, like the past. It would make zero sense to perform a scientific experiment if one did not first assume that the past uses of the methodologies would apply now, and that the results would apply in the future given the same conditions.”

Even though Mr. TenBruggencate made the claim that I reject ‘uniformity’ (which he then failed to explain in proper terms), this is simply not the case. I did point out that nature can exhibit elements of randomness. But I also admit that regularities exist in occurrences of events whose outcomes are not certain. This in no way undermines induction upon uniformity, and only reinforces entropy principles.

Mr. TenBruggencate goes on to say:

“…induction, or the uniformity of nature. Science also cannot be done without presupposing uniformity, which cannot be made sense of without God.” (Sye TenBruggencate)

This presents a huge problem for the Biblical literalist.

How is experimental science possible in a universe that is reliant on the decision making of a Bronze Age deity? Experimental science would be completely useless under these conditions. A God that can change future outcomes would make predictability both impossible and unreliable.

By his own definition, ‘the uniformity of nature, or quite basically, the assumption that the future will be, or will even probably be, like the past’ would effectively handicap God from performing miracles. The correlation lies with the predictability of the universal patterns of cause and effect within the scope of natural laws, past and future.”[Miracles] would make zero sense … if one did not first assume that the past uses of the methodologies would apply now, and that the results would apply in the future given the same conditions.” (Sye TenBruggencate) Biblical miracles cannot occur in accordance with Sye’s uniformity principles, as it eliminates the possibility of unnatural events presented in Biblical text; a self-contradiction.

Sye plays word games; utilizes double-meanings to create confusion:

About ‘truth’

One can’t really argue against absolute truth. Even a statement such as, “there is no such thing as absolute truth,” is a truth statement in itself. Though, everyone argues in behalf of their own truths. After all, what are we doing when we have discussions like these?

During our exchange, I made the comment that our definition of truth is sometimes provisional (or subject to modification). I also commented that ‘truth’ statements are more valid when supported by verifiable evidence. For example, a statement such as, “the Earth orbits the Sun,” is considered a true statement because we can validate it. A majority of people would agree with that statement to make it true. On the other hand, a statement such as, “the Earth is flat,” is false because all of our models suggests otherwise. Again, we collaborate to make this statement false.

It is worth mentioning, however, “the Earth is flat” is a statement that was once generally accepted as ‘truth’ (as historical records have shown). So, the way we perceive ‘truth’ is occasionally subject to modification. Hence, truth statements are provisional. Thankfully, science has helped us refine truth through a fairly accurate, scrupulous, and rigid body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, and correcting and integrating previous knowledge.

About ‘facts’

A fact is knowledge that is based on real occurrences. A fact becomes a fact when confirmed and verified. Facts are everywhere, but they do not explain how things work. Only theories give us explanations of natural phenomenon.

Definition of theory (Merriam Webster): the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another; a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.

“Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses.” -National Academy Press

I should add one more thing – because Darwin’s theory of evolution (powered by the mechanism of Natural Selection) carries with it a collection of established facts, verifiable evidence, and other confirmed observations, it is closer to our concept of the ‘truth’ than something like the Creation narrative in Genesis, that by scientific ways of examining the world would be considered more likely to be a false explanation.

Sye avoids direct inquiries and knows very little about modern Biology:

Mr. TenBruggencate will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid any or all conversation relating to theories in modern science, especially biological evolution. I got a good taste of that during our interactions. More shocking, Mr. TenBruggencate made the remark that evolution has ‘nothing to do with a discussion about nature.’

No, really … he actually said that.

What’s worse, I tried several times to persuade Mr. TenBruggencate into explaining his own creationist arguments in a concise, logical, and descriptive manner that included some evidential support – either empirical or scientific – and how it would then tie into his ‘uniformity of nature’ principles. But even this was too much to ask for. I got absolutely nothing, but more of the same line of rhetoric – ‘can you be wrong about everything you claim to know?’ Blah, blah, blah. More avoidance.

Needless to say, the theory of evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. It explains the mechanisms at work in all living systems. Biological evolution describes the cumulative changes that occur among populations over successive generations. And, it is supported by overwhelming evidence from the fossil record, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and modern genetics. Of course it is more than relevant when it comes to matters related to nature.

timeline-of-hominid-evolution_517f2065cdb2b_w1500

Courtesy of NCSE

Mr. TenBruggencate’s ignorance on these matters sums up the absurdity of this entire discussion. He can’t argue against evolutionary theory because he knows very little about it. He avoids creationist topics because he knows that it will destroy his entire argument. Make no mistake – his is unwillingness to discuss biological evolution has less to with his pseudo-philosophy, and more to do with an inability to defend his ‘worldview’ against legitimate scientific claims. Mr. TenBruggencate masquerades his own version of presuppositional apologetics in order to disguise the inconsistencies of the Christian position and his lack of understanding for opposing viewpoints.

Sye lacks credibility:

None of his arguments constitute proof of any kind. Mr. TenBruggencate rejects evidence, conforms to avoidance tactics, and operates under the delusion that his arguments deserve high merit, making up his own twisted interpretation of Biblical scripture as he goes along. In the end, his arguments are plain renditions of classical pseudo-philosophy; and bad pseudo-philosophy at that. Simply put – the fact that Mr. TenBruggencate has to resort to circular strategy, avoidance, mental acrobatics, and perennial word games just to satisfy a very simple claim says everything you need to know about his credibility; or lack thereof.

A word of advice:

Unfortunately, my personal experience with Sye TenBruggencate was somewhat unpleasant. He lured me under the false pretense that we were both going to ‘hear each other out.’ Yet, this was hardly the case. After weeks of discussions, it became quite clear that he was not interested in rational discourse, but in glorifying his own self-image as a ‘Christian celebrity,’ using me as a tool to achieve recognition within Christian circles; bragging rights, so to speak. His antics are childish and amateur; his argument mediocre, at best. Mr. TenBruggencate has mocked me on public threads, admitted to recording our phone conversations without prior consent, threatened me about publishing private interactions, and has used my social networking page to harass me and others with religiously inflammatory remarks. Ultimately, I had to block Mr. TenBruggencate from my social networking account.

Here is my advice – if you have been approached by Sye TenBruggencate for debate, decline it. Turn and run the other way. Do not give him the relevance that he so desperately seeks. This was my mistake.

Heed my words. ‘Debating’ Sye TenBruggencate is a one-sided affair; a complete and utter waste of time. But if you proceed despite my warnings, don’t forget to bring a bottle of Advil. The headaches were unbearable.

Tommy R

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