Thursday, August 23, 2012

Philosophial Failures of Christian Apologetics

I am currently working on a new series of videos called the Philosophical Failures of Christian Apologetics.  The primary motivation for this series stems from watching atheist debates with Christians like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and John Lennox.  In my view, one of the greatest pitfalls committed by atheists is a complete failure to enumerate the very basic rules of epistemology so that they may be applied directly to the Christian arguments themselves.  The reason why this is important is because the Christian understanding for "truth" is often times completely at odds with what the word actually means in general usage.

Imagine two people competing on the same game board, but one man is playing chess while the other is playing checkers.  Both sides think they are making a proper effort and playing by the rules, when in reality neither side has actually established what those rules are supposed to be in the first place.  The result is often times a pointless circle of argumentation over logical details that don't really matter in the long run.  My goal is to fill this void by actually enumerating what those rules are supposed to be so that we can see how Christian arguments for God violate them at every turn.  Doing so not only reveals the poor capacity of Christians to form a coherent argument, but also helps us to meaningfully establish a justifiable case for positive atheism. 

The second goal for this video series is to further discuss the psychological basis for Christian arguments in the first place.  While most people can usually recognize the sloppy logic of Christian argumentation, almost no one seems to understand that these arguments are never intended to succeed on a rational level.  Instead, they are deliberately designed to appeal to distinct psychological weaknesses in human perception.  This is why we keep seeing the same, tired old arguments over and over, no matter how much they are debunked.  It is not about the exercise of proper logic in a search for truth, but a willful ploy to manipulate a naive listener.

Finally, my last goal is to critically scrutinize the Christian arguments for God directly.  This is something that can be found on plenty of sources throughout the internet, but I feel that very few of them do a very good job at it.  All too often, I see atheists working far to much at nit-picking the premises of Christian arguments while simultaneously missing out on the embarrassing inanity that governs the essence of the arguments themselves.  For example, the ontological argument for God is often times expressed as a long, point-by-point deduction based on modal logic.  But at the end of the day, the entire argument is simply built on the idea that if something possibly exists "necessarily" (i.e., by definition) then it must actually exist.  However, most atheists tend to miss this, instead trying to examine the premises directly and  tackle them all in detail.  A far more efficient discussion is to simply point out the epistemic rules being violated by this core assertion.

Another problem that I see is that atheists often work far too hard to provide distinct answers for difficult questions when a simple "I don't know" is perfectly adequate.  This is very often the case with arguments like the Kalam cosmological argument.  Nobody has any idea what happened "before" the Big Bag or if such a question even has any physically coherent meaning.  But that's okay, because we don't have to know.  We simply need to show that Christians don't know either, because their entire case is built on pure ignorance alone.  Of all the lectures given by apologetics like William Lane Craig, all of them will try to build a positive case on the simple observation that cosmologists don't yet have an adequate theory of everything.

So to help offer a fresh perspective on Christian philosophy, I am working on a series of scripts to be converted into video format.  The plan is for each video to be around 10-15 minutes in length and to tackle a distinct, self-contained topic in each segment.  This corresponds to roughly 1600-2500 words per video at a normal rate of speech, which is good because it forces me to be concise in my presentation (I can babble on quite easily sometimes).  You will also notice periodic bits of emphasis added in order to eventually help me speak with inflection as I perform the actual recordings.  The audio will then consist of me reading from a prepared script while presenting relevant visual aids.  One expectation is for the visual aids to consist of crude cartoon caricatures of atheists, apologetics, and lay people doing silly actions to represent whatever is being talked about at some given moment.

The outline of topics is still a work in progress, but for the moment will go something like this:

Part 1: Why God Matters

This segment justifies the question of God's existence in terms of practical everyday consequences.  It then invites the audience to open up for the rest of the series.

Part 2:  Absolute Truth

This is a really important segment that I have never seen anyone else seriously tackle.  The goal is to discuss very basic rules of epistemology and establish what it means to actually "know" something.  I am very much a "first principles" kind of guy, and so the goal here is to get as far down to absolute beginnings as we possibly can and then build from the foundation.  I am not a serious philosopher by any means, but I am a professional scientist and engineer.  That means I do at least know a few of the basics in this regard.  You'd also be surprised how few people really stop to think about this stuff, even though it is crucial to understanding Christian apologetics.  Every single rule you can imagine for how to properly justify a given belief, and I guarantee that some Christian philosopher has violated it.

Part 3:  Null Hypothesis

This is another important segment because it establishes the case for positive atheism.  Part of the goal here is to provide epistemic justification for the phrase "God does not exist."  All too often, I see people pussy-foot this idea by watering it down into something equivalent to "I lack a positive belief in God," or "you can't prove if God exists or not," or some weak-ass assertion like that.  The hope here is that people will actually grow the courage to stand up for what would otherwise be patently obvious in any other context.  For the exact same reasons we claim that unicorns, leprechauns, and fairies don't exist, we may also claim that God does not exist.

Part 4:  Ontological Word Games

This segment tackles the ontological argument for the existence of God.  It is also the first segment in the series to actually address a positive argument for God's existence.  The goal is to simply show that the argument fails in every way you can possibly imagine, and then to criticize Christians for thinking that they can prove God's existence just by sitting in an armchair and thinking really hard about it.

Part 5:  Cosmological Failure

Now we finally tackle the Kalam cosmological argument.  Again, it fails in every way you can imagine.

Part 6:  Teleological Failuire

Tackling the teleological argument for God's existence.  This one is actually really tricky to debunk unless you get to the heart of what exactly it is Christians are trying to say.

Part 7:  Failure by Design

Tackling the "watchmaker" analogy for intelligent design and why life is not like a pocket watch.  This argument is also especially vicious because it exploits a very well-known bias in human perception.

Part 8:  Morality Debunked

Tackling the moral argument for the existence of God.  This is one that I consistently see atheists fail at.  They'll usually have one or two pieces of good criticism, but very often they lack the courage to admit that objective morals do not actually exist.  This is also a really fun lead-in for scientific studies in cooperative behavior among human cultural groups.

Part 9:  Historical Jesus

Attacking the case for the historical reality of the resurrection.  It amazes me that Christians actually try to argue this, and even more so how so many atheists completely fail to properly attack it.  This topic also makes a great excuse for discussing basic epistemic rules of historical methods, and how the Bible fails to follow these same rules at every possible chance it can get.

Part 10: A Cognitive Theory of Natural Religion

Not quite sure how to end the series.  I am thinking of maybe making a case for natural religion.  That is to say, not only do we have a strong positive case for atheism, and not only can we effectively demolish every major argument for God there is, but we also have a growing scientific theory for where religion came from in the first place!

I welcome any thoughts, criticisms, encouragement, and feedback on this project.  I have written and rewritten several scripts already, and I hope to go through many more iterations before these videos see the light of day.  I especially want people to point out any errors or inconsistencies they can find, as well as to point out any specific sections they found to be well done.  All constructive feedback is appreciated.  Hopefully we can make this a kickass video series!


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