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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Contra PC

Not PC has taken exception to my recent criticism of his blog. He also takes issue with my comments on faith and reason. His responses I think are illustrative of the popular secular mindset so it’s worth responding here.

PC expounds a great deal of rhetorical energy describing my work in pejorative terms. I committed to arguing that “black is white” if the hierarchal Church says so. My reasoning consists merely of “word games” my standards of debate are “low” and my writing is a “tangled thicket” of “misdirections”. Unfortunately simply using pejorative names to describe a position does not provide any reason for rejecting it. A rational person, and PC claims to be a follower of reason, provides arguments. It is to these that I will turn.

1.) PC objects to my comments in a previous blog where I criticised the statement that it is irrational to believe something without proof. (a proposition which was labelled [2] in the original post) PC writes:
Now he may or may not have been referring to exchanges here at Not PC, but if he is then proposition 2 is misstated. What I've said here is that a proposition without proof is flatly arbitrary, and the arbitrary is out. Arbitrary statements don't even get to be called irrational; they don't even get to the table. Matt then goes on to base a whole post on this misstatement.

Now the key word here is *if*.In fact I was not referring to exchanges in not PC. However it’s worth noting that even if I was, PC’s rejoinder could be easily responded to. One could simply change the word “irrational” with the word “arbitrary” in my argument and everything else would still follow. My conclusion would be that it’s not always “arbitrary” to believe things without proof and each of my arguments would be reasons for this altered conclusion.

Not PC clearly takes issue with this conclusion. Latter in his post he states:
Matt himself provides us with an tip that is like a signpost for those of us curious about christian epistemological standards. Says Matt: "you can rationally believe certain things, in certain situations, without evidence."

Oddly PC thinks that simply noting the existence of my thesis refuts it. However, in reality, PC merely demonstrates his lack of understanding of the issues. I am not in this comment defending “Christian” epistemological standards. The thesis that one can rationally (or non arbitrarily) believe some things without proof is largely uncontroversial amongst secular epistemologists. In fact Aristotle, whom not PC attempts to follow, accepted this claim for some of the very reasons I provided in my blog. Roy Clouser summarizes the problems:
If everything needs to be proven then the premises of every proof would need to be proven. But if you need a proof for every proof, you need a proof for your proof, and a proof for your proof of a proof and so on-forever. Thus it makes no sense to demand a that everything be proven because an infinte regress of proofs is impossible( Knowing With the Heart p 69)

As the above citation shows, there are arguments for the position I advanced. There are serious philosophical problems with claiming that all beliefs need to be proved. Strangely PC does not even attempt to address these arguments. Instead he merely asserts my position, calls it “Christian epistemological standards” and thinks that’s enough to rebut it. Unfortunately it is not.

2.)PC goes on to state
as all assiduous listeners of Monty Python are aware, "an argument is a connected series of propositions intended to establish a conclusion." What I posted above was not an argument. It was one post with four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it; some thoughts for a Sunday on how faith undercuts reason. It was not an argument,

I had assumed that when PC was contending that faith destroys knowledge he was actually attempting to provide reasons for his conclusion instead of several assertions. That I though was a more charitable interpretation of PC’s work Apparently, I was mistaken, my contention that he provides a weak argument for his conclusion is mistaken, I should have said he provided none at all. Does this make his position more defensible, No

3.) PC also contents I misinterpreted his position on Tertullian, he states “. I do not "cite" Tertullian as "a Fideist." I simply quoted what he said.” Well what according to PC did Tertullian say? PC contends that Tertullian is one of several thinkers who “held the view that faith is antagonistic to knowledge and reason, a divorce which [Tertullian] approved.” However, as I pointed out in my blog, fideism is the name given to the view that faith is antagostic to reason. Hence PC, by his own admission did contend that Tertullian is a fideist. He simply was unaware the position he attributed to Tertullian has a name and that name is fideism.

4.) PC continues that
He[Me] carries on in this manner, acribing to me all sorts of things I haven't said and positions I haven't taken, eg,"First, [PC] provides some counter examples to anti-evidentialism..." and "Second, he offers some criticisms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument...". In other words, he faults me for insufficiently countering in the comments section two very specific theological sallies, when my response was simply to two fairly general and poorly argued points.

PC states that he was not attacking the kalam cosmological argument and anti-evidentialism. He was rather attacking some general and poorly argued points. Well what were those points? One was the claim that God provides the best explanation of the origin of the Universe. In Philosophy of Religion this argument is known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The second, was PC’s contention that its *arbitrary* to believe without evidence. In the literature this is known as evidentialism which is of course the anti-thesis of anti-evidentialism.

Hence, contrary to what PC affirms, he in fact did comment on these issues. It’s just that PC is so unfamiliar with the literature as to know that the positions he criticized had these names. Moreover the arguments he raised were in fact general arguments against these positions not criticisms of specific popularized versions. Hence everything I said stands. PC offered dubious arguments against both positions.

Finally, PC continues to make some questionable claims. He states that I am a doctoral student training to be a theologian. In fact I am a professional theologian with a doctorate. He asserts, that the Gospels were probably written in the second century and third centuries despite the fact the few NT scholars accept such a late date, and again without any evidence. He ignores the numerous scholarly debate about what Kant’s views on religion actually were. He seems unaware for example of Kant’s rationalistic methods in Religion within the bounds of reason or Kant’s attempt to argue for God’s existence in the Critique of Practical Reason. He seems unaware of the debate over whether Kant was a deist, a closet atheist or a Lutheran and he, oddly, seems to think that Kant’s position in the First Critique is clear and obvious (has he read it?) He refers to Mr Alvin Plantinga as a Theologian when it’s Dr Alvin Plantinga and he is a Philosopher.


  1. This isn't on the topic but it is relevant to the familiar position of atheism founded on evolution. Often you will find that the conception of 'evolution' is 'Dawkinism', which had been derived from his popular books and self-promotion. In this situation it is frequenty assumed that the book is closed on evolution and that 'Darkinism' alone provides a solid enough to build criticisms of all alternatives.

    With this in mind I direct you to a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    From Lynch (2007)
    "It has long been known that natural selection is just one
    of several mechanisms of evolutionary change, but the myth that all of evolution can be explained by adaptation continues to be perpetuated by our continued homage to Darwin’s treatise (6) in the popular literature. For example, Dawkins’ (7–9) agenda to spread the word on the awesome power of natural selection has been quite successful, but it has come at the expense of reference to any other mechanisms, a view that is in some ways profoundly misleading."

    PDF available:

  2. I think that the real problem here is the word proof. Proof isn't objective, even though some people would like to think so. For example, take the assertion: "that the country Nambia exists". I've never been there, but I accept that it does indeed exist. What proof do I have? Well, I have seen it on atlases, Google Earth, and I have seen their rugby team on TV recently. However, I haven't been there. So in this case the "proof" of some pictures, a bit of software, and some TV footage means "proof". Really, that is quite circumstantial! What I may accept as proof, others will reject, and vice versa. For example, I believe in God while others won't, while they will believe in vast conspiracies and I won't. And probably the same level of proof for both!


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