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Friday, May 15, 2020

William Lane Craig - The Mere Presuppositionalist

In my previous article, I attempted to make a rather modest defense of the most basic or mere Presuppositionalist framework that I think all Christian apologists should accept. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and so many who had been “anti”- Presuppositionalist stated that they were much more amenable to it now that they realized it was not identical to a tactic of forever asking “how do you know for certain?”

I ended that article by saying that I would continue on by writing about how Presuppositionalism frees the Christian to play on our own turf, so to speak. That we do not need to abandon Biblical beliefs or try to start on some supposed neutral ground with the unbeliever and attempt to prove God from the bottom up (e.g. from contra-naturalism, to general theism, to Christian theism). However, while I was discussing the article with others I realized that a lot of people were having a hard time moving from the moral argument not having a direct implication in how we think about the argument itself, to the transcendental argument which does. That is, with the moral argument, the conclusion of the argument itself does not have direct implication for how we interact and understand the moral argument itself. However, with the Transcendental argument, rationality itself is what is needed to interact with the argument. This means that the soundness of the argument has a certain entailment about how we interact with the argument – in order for the unbeliever to attempt to even engage the argument, they must use their God-given rationality to do so.

This difference caused some comprehension problems for people who were initially opposed to the Presuppositionalism generally, and who were rather hostile to the stance that I took in the article – that all Christian apologists just are mere Pressupositionalists. While I was planning the next article, I was reminded of an argument that Alvin Plantinga developed and William Lane Craig himself has used in debates – the argument from intentionality, or the argument from “aboutness.” Craig presents the argument as follows:

1. If God did not exist, then intentional states of consciousness would not exist.
2. Intentional states of consciousness do exist.
3. God exist.

Here Craig points out that given atheism, intentionality (the property of being about something or of something else; that our thoughts are object directed) is an incoherent concept. He argues a reductio ad absurdum that if atheism is true, then we should not be in a position where we could even think about the truth or falsity of atheism. I'm not here going to defend the soundness of the argument as, again, I think it should be a trivial fact that nearly all Christians would grant the truth of the argument and I'm here writing to Christian apologists, not trying to present the argument to unbelievers as a defense of Christian theism. It seems to me that the argument from intentionality just is yet another kind of transcendental argument – it establishes that one of the necessary preconditions for rationality (intentionality) is only possible given the existence of God (i.e. God is the necessary precondition for rationality).

I like this argument from intentionality for the purposes of demonstrating mere Presuppositionalism because it has the exact entailment that the argument I presented in the last article does - mainly because intentionality just is one of the transcendental facts of reality used as evidence in my version of the argument. That is, if Craig's argument is sound, then for the unbeliever to even think about the argument from intentionality, God must necessarily exist as the necessary precondition for rationality (which requires intentionality). This means that for the unbeliever to even attempt to engage the argument, they must first unwittingly presuppose the truth of the very argument that they want to deny in order to have a foundation from which to try and launch their assault. In order for them to deny that God is the necessary precondition for intentionality, they must employ their God-given intentional ability to think about the argument. As the cliche goes, they cannot try to slap God's face without first needing him to let them climb into his lap.

Ultimately, the unbeliever does not stand on neutral ground. He is a creature in God's creation, made imago dei, trying to use his God-given reason in order to deny these fundamental features of his own being and existence.

This kind of framework just is mere Presuppositionalism. The question for the Christian apologist then becomes, given the fact that the unbeliever is not neutral, that they cannot reason coherently from within their own worldview, and cannot help but involuntarily presuppose the existence of the very God that they seek to deny, what impact (if any) ought this have on the methodology and tactical decisions we make in an attempt to provide a consistent and rational defense of the Christian faith?

We will discuss this in the next article.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A Modest Defense of Basic Presuppositional Thought

I plan on writing a series of articles trying to explicate Presuppositional thought more concisely and clearly than I have found elsewhere. I plan on addressing some of the concerns that I think arise from those who have been exposed to Presuppositionalism via those who may be philosophically and theologically Presuppositional, but may not use the best debate or evangelistic tactics or strategy. If you think that Presuppositionalism just is forever appealing to the Bible as the ground of belief, or asking “By what standard/how do you know/how can you be certain” ad nauseum, then you likely have only been exposed to the kind of Presuppositional tactics that many of us find problematic. Those who employ that as a debate strategy may agree with me philosophically and theologically, but I have strong criticism of their presentation of such views. For this article, I would like to present a general justification for the philosophical conviction that underlies Presuppositional thought – that God is the necessary precondition for rationality, even for the unbeliever. Hopefully this will help demystify Presuppositionalism for some of you and help apologists understand a powerful tool that God has given his people in declaring Christ to a fallen world.

Many apologists are familiar with and use the moral argument for God. The most common form of this argument, popularized by William Lane Craig, goes as follows:

1. If God did not exist, the objective moral values and duties would not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
3. God exists.

Now, for this article I’m writing expressly and exclusively for Christians committed to the truth of the historic Christian faith. Atheists and others are more than welcome to read, but here, I’m not going to be attempting to warrant the truth of the premises of this or any other arguments for God’s existence. So with that caveat out of the way, this argument is standard faire among Christian thinkers. While the atheist may protest to one or both premises, most of us do not therefore think that their protestation undermines the argument.

There are multiple defenses of this argument that arise in the face of various kinds of objections but one thing that we think is true as Christians, is that the unbeliever can do morally obligatory things because they are creatures created imago dei. We often will hear the objection from the unbeliever, "well are you saying that I can’t be moral? I dont need to believe in God to be moral!" to which the Christian will rightly point out the confusion between ontology and epistemology which the unbeliever has committed themselves to. There is no question that an atheist can do morally good things - we think they can precisely because they live in God's creation and are created imago dei. The argument then is not dealing with if religious belief is needed for people to do moral things, but rather what the necessary precondition is for the existence of objective moral values and duties to exist in the first place. That challenge then is if the worldview of the unbeliever can do the heavy lifting to ground their existence or not. So in one sense the Christian has everything in common with the atheist (we all are imago dei creatures) but in another sense we have nothing in common with the atheist (their worldview is irrational at its foundation because it denies the very thing needed to affirm what they want to affirm, and ours does not).

Why do I bring up the moral argument when talking about presup? I bring up the moral argument because it just is a transcendental argument. It argues what the necessary precondition would be for objective morality and then seeks to defend the impossibility of the contrary – that if God did not exist, it is impossible for objective moral values and duties to exist. This is just entailed by God being the necessary precondition (that if he was not, then the consequent would not be either.) And this is precisely how I, as a Presuppositionalist, would and do defend the transcendental argument from transcendental facts of reality (preconditions for rationality such as laws of logic, that there is something that is not nothing, consistency and coherence in the laws of nature, the intelligibility of nature, the reality of the past, truth seeking and reason responsive minds, etc.), hereafter TFRs.

So I give the following argument:

1. If God did not exist, then we could not coherently affirm TFRs
2. We can coherently affirm TFRs.
3. God exist.

From there I can show that in order to explain TFRs, a cause would need to be omnimax, multi-personal, necessary, transcendent, etc. That is, God. In addition that not only would alternative explanations not provide the necessary preconditions for rationality, but that any attempt to do so would be far less explanatorily powerful, less explanatory scope, more ad hoc and far less simple (as in most cases they need multiple explanations for any one feature). While I plan on reviewing objections from the unbeliever to the argument in later articles and how to overcome those objections, remember here the point is talking in house to Christians, which I take it almost a trivial truth that the overwhelming majority would accept the soundness of this argument that God is, ontologically, the foundational grounding for logic itself.

However, this logical version of the transcendental argument that I provided, as opposed to the moral version, since it is about the preconditions for rationality (laws of logic included) has one entailment that the moral argument does not. One does not use morality to evaluate the moral argument but they do use logic to try and evaluate the logical argument. This entails that in order to even engage the argument, God must exist as the ground reason for logic in the first place. That is, if the argument is sound, then the unbeliever is unwittingly presupposing the ground of logic in order to use logic. To use an old analogy, it is like they are taking a big breath of air before giving a speech on the non-existence of air. Yet this seems to be precisely where many apologists try to push for criticisms of Presuppositionalism.

What makes this so bizarre is that those same Christians who can easily answer the unbeliever on the moral argument when they retort “are you saying I can’t be moral because I don’t believe in your God,” are the same Christians who will hear the logical argument and say things like, "of course the unbeliever can reason! Are you saying that they cannot reason unless they believe in God?" Just like the answer above, which they themselves would give to the unbeliever’s criticism of the moral argument, the answer here is yes and no. The unbeliever can reason because they are created imago dei and live in God’s rationally ordered cosmos. But on the other hand, they cannot be rational about anything because their use of logic to try and reason against the existence of the necessary foundation for logic in the first place is inconsistent and irrational. That is, at the most fundamental level, their own worldview is incoherent. So when they use their reasoning to try and disprove God, if God is the necessary foundation for reason, then they are being utterly irrational - like taking in a deep breath of air before giving a speech denying the existence of air.

Now, the truth of the logical argument should be trivially obvious to you as a Christian. And then so too should the fact that in order for the atheist to even try to reason to the conclusion of the non-existence of God, they can only do so because God exists and they are created in his image. To be frank, I’m amazed that this is even in dispute among Christian. So the question then becomes, if you as a Christian believe that, then why wouldn’t we have our apologetics methodology reflect that? Why would we not point out to the unbeliever that even in their attempt to disprove God by attempted reasonable engagement of evidence and arguments, that they actually prove the necessary existence of God by using the very thing that God is a necessary precondition for?

Here I take it to be then the benefit of the Presuppositionalist position. It calls the unbeliever to be epistemologically self-aware of their own metaphysical commitments and where their attempts at rationality are at odds with their own worldview and are, therefore, irrational. This full frontal assault on the ability of their worldview to even allow for rational engagement has numerous applications to their understanding of God, his creation, his word, the utility of science, the quality, existence and role of evidences, and so forth. Presuppositionalists are therefore not opposed to evidences or the use of rational arguments. The main point of Presuppositionalism is that in order to evaluate an argument or to understand and interpret data in an evidentiary manner, the unbeliever must try and rationally engage with them. Yet as the argument above demonstrates, for them to even be able to attempt to do so, God just is the necessary precondition for rationality to even be possible. In order for them to argue against God, God must necessarily exist. And so the unbeliever is reduced to futility. They are foolish, in the Biblical sense – “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” (Psalm 14:1).

This will lead me to the next strength of Presuppositionalism – the Christian does not need to condescend to play on the turf of the unbeliever and prove God bottom up… but that can. (Because God exists.) I will discuss this in the next article.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Christianity is false because... Denominations?

In debating with atheists, we have all heard something like this:

“Yeah but you Christians cant even agree on what it means to be a Christian? Why should I be your kind of Christian and not one of the other 40,000 denominations out there? How can Christianity be true if you all cannot even agree on what it is?”

This is a bad argument from the atheist for several reasons.

First, even if there were 40,000 denominations, and even if they were all uniquely different in substantive ways, it does not follow that the Christian with whom they are talking to believes that all or most of the other denomination that they do not belong to are not Christians or not "real" Christians or whatever. For example, I belong to a rather small American denomination within the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian tradition called the Presbyterian Church in America (the PCA). I have no problem saying that I have Christian brothers and sisters (even theologically incorrect ones) who hold to the core aspects of the Christian faith in nearly all other orthodox denominations – Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and so forth. We have some disagreements to be sure, but we can all stand shoulder to shoulder on the core aspects of the nature of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ (namely expressed in his death, burial and bodily resurrection), and the commission to share the gospel to the world as much as we can before the return of Christ at the end of the present world.

Second, the existence of disagreement does not necessarily count as evidence against a view or in favor of its opposition. There are at least 10 different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics that are all consonant with the observable data. The fact that scientists disagree about the interpretation is not evidence against the existence of a quantum world, nor can the mere presence of disagreement with other views be an argument against any one view over the other. It also cannot be used reasonably as evidence in favor of some position that would deny quantum mechanics altogether. So too, the existence of theological disagreement between denominations on largely tertiary issues cannot function as an objection to Christianity or in favor of atheism. Think about what would happen if we allowed this kind of argument for worldviews more generally. Would the existence of mere disagreement between worldviews mean that ALL worldviews are wrong? Or could we, in a debate, tell one side that they are probably wrong simply because other worldview advocates disagree with them? Of course not. That would just be an objection which is trivially easy to dispatch.

Third, when someone makes a claim like this, we should always check their sources. The statistic for this number appears to be from the World Christian Encyclopedia (WCE) by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson (Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001). While it does come to a total of 33,000 denominations, the problem with how the atheist uses the stat lies in how they understand what a denomination is compared to how the encyclopedia in question understood it. The atheists are using the objection to try and say that all of these denominations are totally different and do not agree and that each denomination is an instance of evidence for that. However, that is not how the WCE defines what a denomination is in their study. WCE defines a denomination as follows:

'Denominations. A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.' (Barrett et al, volume 1, page 16, Table 1-5, emphasis added)

From this definition, two things should be brought into focus about how WCE defined a Christian denomination,

1.   Denominations are defined primarily geographically. That is, there may be one denominational body but it is counted as a new denomination for every country that it operates in. I mentioned my denomination, the PCA, previously. The PCA has church plants in a couple dozen countries. This means that while the PCA is the main ecclesiastical body, and we all agree and adhere to the same confessional standards, this one denomination will be counted as a couple dozen denomination in the WCE survey.
2. The WCE has no problem classifying these 33,000 denominations into 6 “ecclesiastico-cultural blocs.” This means that the vast majority of these fall into just a handful of buckets.

Therefore, the main problems with how the atheists use the final number from this list is that they completely ignore the causal factors that lead to denominationalism in the first place. Often the dividing line between denominations or for why one church will plant a new one is geographical, or if there is a split and the new church is one that is unaffiliated with the prior church (either peacefully or by a split) has absolutely nothing to do with anything remotely like substantive theology. Denominations and churches are established as distinct from others because of language barriers, cultural distinctives, personality differences, geographical differences, socio-economic, missional purposes, stylistic differences (such as the kind of music played or even, sadly, the kind of carpet that got installed) as well as a whole host other reasons. There are even micro-geographical reasons since the advent of the automobile and the invention of the suburb. We no longer see new churches being called “The 1st Methodist Church of Townsville” but rather “Curve” or something trendy like that. This is because people now have options. There are churches the missionally cater to Baby Boomers and Millennials and everything beyond and between. While many bemoan this kind of consumeristic segmentation and its effects on the church to water it down and juvenilize the church (myself included) this cannot be denied as a real factor in the segmentation of denominations even in small geographical areas. Within my rather small town, there are approximately 2 dozen baptistic churches that likely believe almost identical things as doctrine (at least on core essentials). But one may be a mega church because it was more successful in implementing modern church growth tactics while another fills a need for those with families but who may not like the faceless environment of a megachurch, and another may appeal to those who want to sing hymns and another those who want to sing contemporary songs, and so forth. Many of these churches are Independent, which leads to the next issue with the atheistic use of these statistics.

Sometimes, a certain strong view on the independent nature of the church, that is, that as a matter of course, these Christians may think that the most ethical, functional, and pure way to organize and lead a church just is for it to be independent of the institutional structures that we have seen in history can potentially lead to so much division. We can see this further in the list of denominations that the WCE labels as “Independents” where over 8,000 of the denominations listed just were independent (that is, entirely unaffiliated) Baptist churches. These churches would in most cases be almost doctrinally identical to what we would find in the major American free conference of churches known as the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are counted by their various Rites and Orders even though they all are part of one institutional denomination.

Another problem with trying to use the list provided by the WCE the way atheists do, is that the list includes any group that self-identifies as a Christian church (e.g. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostals, Gnostics, Unitarians, Prosperity cults, Divine Science, Swedenborgian, Universalist Unitarians, etc.) This means that groups which are historically not part of orthodox Christianity and have been identified as cults (multiplied by their various country counts) are included in the list to the tune of several thousands.

I would then recommend a taxonomy of Christian Churches as follows (here I am even allowing the taxonomy to include self-identification as a means of entry to the list):

1. Roman Catholic
2. Eastern Churches
3. Reformed/Lutheran Protestant
4. Arminian/Anabaptist Protestant
5. Pentecostal/Charismatic
6. Theologically Liberal Churches
7. Cultic/Marginal Churches

This is simply a far more accurate way of looking at the various denominational traditions in a way that best eliminates the noise from the statistics dealing with geographical, linguistic, cultural, stylistic, personality, etc. differences that actually drive most of the denominationalism that we observe in reality.

The great irony of all of this for us who are watching the rise of atheist and secular groups, churches and Sunday assemblies, is that they are already showing the early signs of denominationalism. They form in different areas because of geography; several will form in the same area due to demographic or missional differences; some are parts of broader national affiliations, and some are not; some are active politically and some want to be intentionally non-partisan; some are geared toward involvement in education and local schools and colleges while some want to equip the “every man” and others just want to give a "fellowship" environment for unbelievers to gather and break bread together. We have even started to see "church splits" in groups like the Sunday Assembly and the Godless Revival. If we started counting atheist groups and assemblies like the WCE does with denominations, we would see the early seeds of denominationalism on a global scale within secular groups. I wonder what will happen with a group that generally prides itself on independence and having no creedal foundation that ties them all together - which we know serves as a unifying feature within Christianity. Give atheism the 2000 years that Christianity has had, and I wonder just how many millions of denominations such a group will have.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Atheism and Burden of Proof with Ozymandias Ramses II

I'm joined by atheist Ozymandias Ramses II to talk about the nature of atheism, atheistic claims and if atheists carry any burden of proof/justification.

Enjoy the show!

What is Atheism? with Benjamin Blake Speed Watkins

In this episode I review a debate between two atheists (Ben Watkins and Tom Jump) on what the most reasonable use of the term atheism is.

Enjoy the show!

If Christians Used the Rhetoric of Lacktheism

Christian: Gosh, I never realised that not believing in evolution had to be so complicated. If you are interested in why I take that position, you've only to ask.

Evolutionist: So then you believe evolution is false?

Christian: Not believing in evolution is my position.Now, would you like to have a discussion as to why I take that position where you are more than welcome to challenge anything you think is wrong?

Evolutionist: Ok but what is your position? I’m asking what you do believe. So if I ask you, “Is evolution true” and you answer with “I don’t believe in evolution” do you mean that you lack a belief that evolution is true or that you believe that evolution is false?

Christian: Ah, you must be using a different meaning than me of “position.” No probs. Position seems to be a good term to use, I think. If you don't, that's cool. I believe lot's of things and I don't believe many things. Did you have anything specific in mind? If you ask me if evolution is true, my answer will be that I don't know. Unlike most evolutionists here, I usually try to answer the question I am asked rather than a different question.

Evolutionist: so then your agnostic about it?

Christian: Yes, as far a knowledge claims about evolution are concerned. I thought you wanted to know about my beliefs though.

Evolutionist: What do you mean by knowledge? Do you mean that you don’t have warrant for your beliefs that are true? Or do you mean that you don’t have the psychological condition of being certain? Notice I asked what you BELIEVE. And you said “I don’t know”. If you take the rather strange view that knowledge ISNT a kind of belief but refers to a psychological condition of being certain, then how does that answer my question about your beliefs anyway? Because at this point you’re demonstrating exactly why I spend so much time clarifying these terms. I cannot even get to WHY you believe what you believe because you won’t even admit that you have a belief and then state what it is that you believe.

Christian: No you didn't. You asked does evolution is true. You did not ask me whether I believe that evolution is true.

Evolutionist: In what other context does asking a question if something is true entail me asking for only if you are psychologically certain of your belief? Just be honest and answer the question. Don’t do the whole “belief that isn’t a belief but is a belief when it’s not knowledge even though you know that you know it but you don’t know it because you aren’t certain.” So again, is evolution true?

Christian: And therein lies your problem. You spend so much time clarifying these terms inside your own head, you neglect to hear or listen to what the person in from of you is saying. You asked me a question which I answered i.e. “Is evolution true?” – I don’t know. The problem is you were expecting the answer in your own terms and as a result, it became confused such that you thought you asked whether I believe in evolution. Go back and try to read the exchange again as a disinterested party.

As I just said, if you try to let go of your own presumptions about what and how other people think and believe, and actually listen to what they tell you, you might find your conversations are more productive and less of a dance.

Evolutionist: I’ve asked what you believe. Several times. And your response was to try and presumptively fight some claim about certainty and knowledge. Just answer the question honestly. If someone asks if evolution is true, that just is the time to say what you believe. No one is asking only if you’re in a state of psychological certainty.

Christian: I have not fought anything. I have simply responded to what you ask. Which question? There seem to be several on the table.

Evolutionist: Is evolution true? I’m not asking if you’re certain. I’m asking what you believe the truest answer to that is?

Christian: You have just asked two different questions. No probs though. Since I have already answered the first I'll answer the second this time. No, I don't hold the belief that evolution is true. (Hint: if you want more details you will need to ask further questions.)

Evolutionist: I’m not asking you what beliefs you DONT hold. What DO you believe?

Christian: You didn't ask that. You asked if I believe in evolution. Can you see how tricky this is now when you have the questions in your head somewhere but you find it difficult to phrase them correctly. Try to let go of the answers you want the other person to say. So you want to know about the beliefs I do hold? OK. That could cover a wide area, any particular context you are interested in?

Evolutionist: NoI didn’t. Read it again.  I asked if evolution is true or not. What do you believe is the truest answer? That’s not asking if you have the belief that evolution is true.

Christian: I guess it is because evolutionists are so wrapped up in their own beliefs that they find it so difficult to ask questions that might relate to other positions. The key is to let the other person tell you about themselves in their terms. If you ask them about labels which you have already decided the meaning of, they may not know what you mean or worse, they may answer based on their own interpretation of those words.Now where were we? What would you like to find out about from me?

Evolutionist: Is evolution true?

Christian: I don't know if it’s true or not.

And so on....

Is the Christian being reasonable and actually answering the question?

This was an almost word for word conversation I had with an atheist. I cleaned up some of the text and removed personal names and such. Besides that, if you replace evolution with God, it’s the identical conversation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
-Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

For those who have been around the Theist/Atheist debates, the term Dunning-Kruger Effect may be a term that is familiar and yet undefined for many of you. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, let me briefly describe what it is. 

The Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE) is the thesis put forward by two Cornell University psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger. Through various experiments on lab rats (i.e. undergrad students) they attempted to show that there exists a certain kind of cognitive bias whereby certain “unskilled” individuals tend to assess their abilities and skills as higher than what they actually are. The researchers credit this increased confidence to a “metacognitive” inability for them to recognize their own lack of ability. Some people mistakenly think that DKE just means that someone is wrong but thinks that they are right. That is an incomplete understanding of the thesis. DKE goes further and postulates that it is precisely the skills that one would have learned had they been properly educated or trained in a field, that are the exact skills one would need in order to identify the fact that they are unskilled in said field in the first place.

As Dunning so succinctly put it, “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent… the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.” In other words, unskilled people fail to realize that they are unskilled because one of the skills which they lack is precisely the skill needed to differentiate between skilled and unskilled in a given field. It’s a tongue twister, I know. Many of you may have engaged with people in discussion or debate and been so frustrated by their apparent lack of understanding coupled with their simultaneous overestimation of their own skill or knowledge, and yet you were not able to describe exactly what was going on. Well, what you were observing was likely the DKE in effect. 

There are various ways to graph out a visual representation of DKE, ranging from the serious to the comical. Some examples are:

3x4 Tips To Deal With The Dunning Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger Party: Modern Tories - » The Australian ...

Where someone would fall on this graph is largely measurable by using various metrics. The list that I am about to give you is the DKE indicators and the justifications presented by Dunning and Kruger. You will notice that each indicator is then expanded upon and clarified within a corresponding comment from J. Burke. It is important to note that these indicators function much more like a spectrum of severity that a person could fall somewhere along, and thus someone could suffer from DKE to greater or lesser degrees depending on the field in question and it could be expressed to greater or lesser degrees across these eight indicators. The idea is that the more of these indicators a person exhibits, and to a stronger degree, the more probable it is that such a person is suffering from DKE. The following layout for these indicators and the initial references I am getting from J. Burke. 

The eight indicators of DKE are:

1. Skill-boundary Transgression: The individual is seeking to operate as an authority or qualified individual, in a field beyond their personal level of academic and professional qualification.
     a. “Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria.’, ibid., p. 1122; the importance of formal academic and professional qualifications is that they constitute objective criteria by which competency can be assessed, so we should place less trust in those lacking such qualifications.”

2. Self-identified Authority: The individual identifies themselves as sufficiently competent to comment authoritatively on the subject.
     a. “These findings suggest that unaccomplished individuals do not possess the degree of metacognitive skills necessary for accurate self-assessment that their more accomplished counterparts possess,’ ibid., p. 1122; we cannot rely on those who are not academically and professionally qualified in a particular field, to assess accurately their own authority and competence in that field.”

3. Unrecognized Competence: The individual’s self-assessed competence is not recognized by those who are academically and professional competent.
     a. “We propose that those with limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to recognize it.’, p. 1132;. it is far more likely that an unqualified non-professional will be wrong in a given field of specialization, than a qualified professional whose competency has been recognized formally by their equally qualified peers.”

4. False Peers: The individual believes that the favorable commentary of other unskilled and non-professional individuals, indicates they themselves are sufficiently qualified.
     a. “… some tasks and settings preclude people from receiving self-correcting information that would reveal the suboptimal nature of their decisions (Einhorn, 1982).’, ibid., p. 1131; by keeping themselves predominantly in the intellectual company of those who agree with them, individuals experiencing the Dunning-Kruger Effect place themselves in a setting which typically prevents their errors being exposed, instead keeping them in a kind of intellectual echo chamber in which their views are reinforced by being repeated back to them with approval by those unqualified to assess them competently.”

5. Scrutiny Avoidance: The individual fails to submit their work for professional scrutiny (such as in the relevant scholarly literature), for review by those genuinely qualified.
     a. “One reason is that people seldom receive negative feedback about their skills and abilities from others in everyday life (Blumberg, 1972; Darley & Fazio, 1980; Goffman, 1955; Matlin & Stang, 1978; Tesser & Rosen, 1975)’, ibid., p. 1131; avoidance of scrutiny by professionals enhances this effect, keeping the unqualified away from those who are best able to expose their errors, and preserving their self-delusion that they are correct.”

6. Pioneer Complex: The individual self-identifies as a pioneer uncovering previously unknown or unrecognized facts; a Copernicus or Galileo.
     a. “This is a self-delusional identification since neither Copernicus nor Galileo were ‘gifted amateurs’ opposing a body of professionals (both men were professionals, holding formal teaching positions), and Galileo in particular knew that the subject should be decided by professionals astronomers, placing no value whatsoever on the opinions of the unqualified; writing against the papal edict silencing publications on heliocentrism in the preface of his ‘Dialogue’ (1632), Galileo scorned the unqualified amateur: ‘Complaints were to be heard that advisors who were totally unskilled in astronomical observations ought not to clip the wings of reflective intellects by means of rash prohibitions.’, Galileo, quoted in Næss, ‘Galileo Galilei: When the Earth Stood Still’, p. 131 (2005).

7. Conspiracy Claims: The individual explains opposition by qualified professionals as a coordinated attempt to suppress truth, in order to defend the existing scholarly consensus.
     a. ‘Third, even if people receive negative feedback, they still must come to an accurate understanding of why that failure has occurred. The problem with failure is that it is subject to more attritional ambiguity to success. For success to occur, many things must go right: The person must be skilled, apply effort, and perhaps be a bit lucky. For failure to occur, the lack of any one of these components is sufficient. Because of this, even if people receive feedback that points to a lack of skill, they may attribute it to some other factor (Snyder, Higgins, & Stucky, 1983; Snyder, Shenkel, & Lowry, 1977).’, ibid., p. 1131; when an unqualified non-professional attributes opposition to or dismissal of their theories by qualified professionals as a conspiracy to maintain the intellectual status quo, the Dunning-Kruger effect is very likely responsible: an example is the Science and Public Policy Institute(a non- profit group in the US which opposes the scientific consensus on global warming), ‘People who are not scientists, or even experts on the subjects they write about often write the SPPI reports, and many convey conspiratorial themes. For example, an SPPI publication by Joanne Nova, who describes herself as a “freelance science presenter, writer, & former TV host”, exemplifies not only the ‘Dunning-Kruger’ effect (Dunning 2003), but also the inactivist movement’s frustration with mainstream climate science and its inflated sense of victimhood.’, Elshof, ‘Can Education Overcome Climate Change Inactivism?’, Journal for Activism in Science and Technology Education (3.1.25), 2011

8. Allocentric Claim of Bias: The individual explains the difference between their views and those of qualified professionals, as the result of inherent bias on the part of the professionals; accusations of bias are directed at anyone other than themselves, and they claim objectivity.
     a. Allocentric means ‘focused on others’, or ‘aimed at others’. 

Here it is important to note that before one begins to evaluate the statements made by some individual, they should realize that unless they are a trained psychologist they should not attempt a definitive diagnosis. The irony of doing that with DKE  itself, may rip the very fabric of nature apart. So let me be clear that when I think that someone is exhibiting indicators that they are being guided by a kind of DKE , I do not pretend to be qualified to make such a strong evaluation of this individual as an actual diagnosis. Rather, my comments in this regard are simple facts about the kinds of actions and statements that this person publicly presents which lead me to think that the DKE t is likely a robust explanation for these features of their statements. It is a framework that seems to fit well with the majority of the data but in no way should be construed as me trying to actually diagnosis them.

Observing that someone is experiencing the DKE also does not mean that such a person is unintelligent. I am fully convinced that individuals who are quite intelligent and well versed in some topics, can be completely biased in others, which is partly what leads to the frustration that occur in these conversations. The DKE  applies to areas where an individual is unskilled or has not undergone adequate or comprehensive academic or technical training to merit their level of confidence in their assertions on the topic or about actual experts in that field. So I do not mean this as a slight against any person’s character or to insinuate that they are unintelligent or immoral. 

I am sure that observers and participants on both sides of these discussions (and often on both sides of any contentious issue) will be able to think of numerous examples of when they have observed the DKE in action. I find that generally asking, “What academic or scholarly literature have you read that informs your understanding of X,” is a helpful indicator, though not an all-purpose tool. More often than not, people who appear to clearly be suffering from DKE will have made very strong claims with regard to X, even telling people who do have higher levels of academic familiarity with X that their views of it are stupid or unevidenced, to which their level of dogmatic certainty is simply unwarranted by the little to no research that they have actually performed. Once asked the question, rather than admitting that they have simply not studied and then realizing that they should moderate their beliefs, the person exhibiting signs of DKE will instead go on the offensive ridiculing the question, claiming that they do not need to study because the literature is all written by advocates of X anyway, claiming that they have studied the data themselves and don’t need to read any experts, or try a tu quoque maneuver asking if the questioner has read all the literature that there is to read to know that they are wrong. 

Here I am not making any claims as to who is guilty and who isnt or casting any blame. I merely want to give the tools for people to analyze why some of these conversations turn out to be non-productive, and to remind us that we ought to moderate our psychological states of conviction, certainty, and dogmatism in accord with the levels of research that we have actually completed into a field. 


1. Burke, J.
2. Kruger & Dunning, ‘Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (77.6.1132), 1999
3. Morris, Errol (20 June 2010). "The Anosognosic's Dilemma: Something's Wrong but You'll Never Know What It Is (Part 1)".  New York Times.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Abortion Part 3 - Handling Objections with Grace and Truth

Aaron Brake presents part 3 of his series on abortion - Handling Objections with Grace and Truth.

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Worldview Discussion with a Pragmatic Pantheist

I was given permission to share the audio from a Discord discussion that I had with The Philosophy Guy. We discuss our views, warrant, evidence, religious experience and so forth. This conversation went places that I've never had a conversation go so hope you all find it interesting!

Enjoy the show!

Friday, April 24, 2020

More on Atheism as "Lacktheism"

If atheism is defined as being a biographical lack of belief, and if agnostic is used as an adjective that modifies atheism (i.e. 'I'm an agnostic atheist"), then that would mean "I do not know that I lack a belief." Which clearly isnt what the lacktheist is claiming.

But if agnosticism means that he believes that we live in a godless universe but that he doesnt claim certainty in his belief (which isnt what we mean by "know" btw) then the agnostic adjective is just superfluous because at that point it means that he DOES believe that we live or probably live in a godless-cosmos, which just is standard philosophical sense of the term atheist to mean that someone believes that a god does not or probably does not exist. But then he should just say that he is an atheist in that sense and avoid all the confusion and unnecessary adjectives in the first place.

Therefore, if atheism just means "I lack a god-belief" and "agnosticism" means "I lack certainty" (since that's how most of them use "know"), then to say "I'm an agnostic atheist" just means, "I am not certain that I lack a god-belief."

To follow this, atheists will often say that they are not certain or that that could be wrong. Which then leads me to wonder the following questions: You could be wrong about what? If you say that as an atheist that you havent made a claim, then what claim did you make that you could be wrong about? You could be wrong that you lack a belief in God? 

All you did was give a biographical description of your own psychology. So you could be wrong about that?

But this is just obviously an absurd use of language because if atheism means "I believe a god doesnt exist but I'm not absolutely certain of it, but I know that I lack a belief" then that is "I am an agnostic-(philosophical)atheist-gnostic-(biographical)atheist."

I dont need to say that I lack a belief in fairies but that I believe there are probably none but I'm not absolutely certain of it so therefore I'm an "agnostic-aFairyiest-gnostic-aFairyist."

I think the lacktheist use of the term just conflates numerous questions:

1. What do I believe?
2. Why do I believe it?
3. How convinced am I that my belief is true?
4. Can I/Ought I be able to demonstrate this belief to others?

So if atheism just is the position that we live or probably live in a god-less existence, that is independent of how you'd answer 2-4. You may believe that because you think that is the position supported by evidence, you may believe it because you think there is no evidence for God to affirm a belief, you may believe it with little certainty or with dogmatic certainty, and you may think that you cannot demonstrate it to anyone because you think proving a negative is impossible.

Now, I think there is a general lack of understanding from atheists and theists about epistemology and warrant. But generally #1 is how we would answer the question, "Does God exist?"

1. Theism - the position that God does or probably does exist. (Yes/probably)
2. Agnosticism - the position that we do not have evidence either way and so it's not reasonable to answer yes or no. (Abstain)
3. Atheism - the position that we do or probably do live in a god-less existence. (No/Probably not)

Again, you may affirm atheism because you think there are positive reasons for it. Maybe you think science has "disproven" God or that Michael Martin was right that the omniattributes are contradictory and thus the concept is incoherent. Or you may believe atheism is true because you think there is a lack of compelling evidence to the contrary. But how ever you answer question #2 concerning WHY you believe it is IRRELEVANT to the fact that you believe WHAT you believe.

It also is irrelevant how confident you are in your beliefs. Here you can be hardly confident in atheism and merely think it's just more plausible than not, or you can be dogamtically and unassailable certain that it is true. The psychological condition of being certain ABOUT your belief doesnt entail that you do not possess that belief.

My next point is just that if you think you are not able to justify your belief to other people is not relevant to if you do in fact hold that belief. And if you think that your belief is just the kind of thing that cannot be demonstrated to be true to others, then you need to simply come to grips with that and find a way to explain why you have warrant for believing it true (and arguing that other views are false). You inability to demonstrate it however does not mean that you do not have that belief. This should be obviously true to atheists especially considering the majority of them likely believe that theists have beliefs that we are unable to justify to their satisfaction. They would not allow us to say that we are warranted to believe it just because it is the kind of thing that cannot be demonstrated. (Though I personally think it can.)

So falling back on saying that atheism just is a BIOGRAPHICAL state of lacking a god-belief not only doesnt answer the question, "Does God exist" (remember, atheists are the ones who commonly claim that it is just an answer to ONE question - does God exist), but it also does not address what you DO believe. We wouldnt say that theism is psychological condition of lacking a belief in a god-less existence. That just is a corollary to the actual positive belief.

So what is a better way to use and understand these terms? Well we should be transparent about our switching of terms from autobiographical uses of the term to describe our psychological states and the philosophical use of the term to describe positive beliefs.

The New Atheist redefinition of the term as being “a lack of belief in God” is something that presents a rather weak position and one with many conceptual problems. I have laid out many of the problems that arise from this new colloquial use of the term (especially when coupled with other redefinitions such that belief becomes synonymous with opinion without evidence and knowledge is observation of empirical data) so here let me simply give a better framework for using these terms in an attempt to Steelman atheism. This is in no way original to me, I just hope to lay it out in as trimmed down and simple a manner as possible.


P-Theism. Philosophical Theism: The belief that God(s) exists. (Let us ignore for now the different conception of God/gods).

B-Theism. (Auto)Biographical Theism: A description of a person or the self, such that God belief is a proposition that is present within their cognitive framework. The subject possess a belief in God/gods.

P-Atheism. Philosophical Atheism: The belief that God(s) does not exists.

B-Atheism. (Auto)Biographical Atheism: A description of a person or the self, such that God belief is not a proposition that is present within their cognitive framework. The subject does not possess a belief in God/gods.

Remember, why someone affirms P-Theism or P-Atheism, how convinced they are of either of them, and if they can demonstrate it to others, has no bearing on if they do in fact affirm one of them.

We can think of the following break down of terminological uses as a help here.

Think about it this way. It seems that to employ these labels as many atheists do, they would actually need to stop equivocating and start meaningfully differentiating the concepts. We could ask when someone claims to be an "agnostic atheist," what is it that they mean? Are they claiming to be an agnostic B-Atheist, or an agnostic P-Atheist?

If they claim that Atheism just is and only means B-Atheism ("atheism just is a lack of belief!"), then most would almost certainly be Gnostic B-Atheists. And that position would just be trivially true as a psychological description of the person. It seems they would also need to employ a parallel usage for B-Theism and P-Theism such that they would need to say that B-Theism is just as trivially true as B-Atheism.


Often the New Atheist will equivocate between A1 and A2 while simultaneously only ever allowing for T1 for any kind of meaning of theism - such that theism or being a theist just IS to make a claim such as T1. So they will say things like, “Atheism just is, by definition, a lack of a belief in God/gods,” but then will also say things like, “Theism is false, irrational, stupid, and atheism is true, evidence based and rational.” The problems that this creates should be evident to any familiar with the literature on this issue but let me walk through some of them here.

1. Equivocations are never a reasonable way to dialogue. When the atheist equivocates between A1 and A2, they are moving goal posts within the conversation. On the one hand they are making the autobiographical claim about the self, but when they say something like “atheism is evidence based,” they do not mean simply that there is evidence that they lack a belief. They mean that it is evidentially veridical or probable that either a) we live in a god-less cosmos such that no being such as God/gods exist, or that b) all present theistic concepts are false. But those claims about reality and the cosmos are not the same claim as the autobiographical claim about what they personally believe or do not believe.

2. There is an attempt to flee any burden of proof. This is often the purpose behind the equivocation above. The New Atheist will say things like “Science disproves the existence of God” or “God is an incoherent concept,” or “If God existed then we wouldn’t see much evil/suffering,” or any other number of assertions meant to convey the actual or probable non-existence of God. Then when asked to defend the claims, the equivocation of #1 is employed and the insular move is made to deny a burden of proof for any claim because, so it is stated, they merely lack a belief and as such they are not the ones with a burden and the theist must be the one to present evidence to the contrary. This is quite literally the same thing as when the misinformed theist tries to tell the atheist that they do not need to defend God and that the atheist must prove that there is not one.

3. Beyond the equivocation, there is also an imbalanced comparison to T1 and T2. For if atheism just is only and ever A2, and this is used as the warrant for the claim that atheism “is true,” then it seems that this would require the atheist to allow for the same analog in theism, namely, T2. Both T2 and A2 are trivially true positions because they are simply descriptions of one’s personal psychology, not propositional claims about the actual existence of God/gods. Therefore insofar as the description of the subject as being T2 or A2 is accurate, and we typically have no good reason to think someone claiming T2 or A2 for themselves are being disingenuous, then they are just equally trivially true.

4. However, given 3, if the atheist wants to claim that T1 is false or that “atheism is true” is some other sense than the trivially true sense of A2, then they seemingly must affirm A1 or something very close to it, which has propositional statements with truth values independent of A2. They would then need to possess warrant for that belief to be rational. This does not mean they must be able to to justify it to others, though many think they would carry a burden of justification, but as stated above, if they want to say that a Christian is irrational in their beliefs unless they can justify it to the satisfaction of the opposing view, then it seems that scalpel must be allowed to cut both ways.

In defining "atheism" only as the autobiographical use to avoid burden, the atheist will create de facto inconsistencies when they move away from being the pure Socratic skeptic (which they always do). The atheist simply is not neutral in these discussions so the instant that they start making evaluative, epistemic, factual, evidentiary, etc. claims, they have ceased being the neutral skeptic and have begun affirming propositional content. And that is absolutely fine. We all do it. Making claims isnt a bad thing. The problem is that they think because they have defined atheism in the autobiographical sense that they then carry no burden and are still being neutral when they are advancing propositional truth claims. That is the rhetorical inconsistency I was pushing on. This is why I said (repeatedly, despite him ignoring it every time) that atheists can define atheism however they want, I really dont care. The issue is when their definition conflicts with their epistemology and rhetorical strategy such that they claim neutrality when they are not being neutral. I'm pushing them to be epistemologically self-aware.

For more of my comments on the meaning of atheism:

EPISODE: Should Atheists Argue that Atheism is a Lack of Belief?
Should Atheists Argue That Atheism is a Lack of Belief?
Is Atheism a Belief?
A-Theism or Atheios-ism?

What Is Atheism? - with atheist Benajamin Blake Speed Watkins

Atheism and Burden - with atheist Ozymandias Ramses II