My Debate Opponent Converted To Theism!

Please note that this post is not a part of my current debate with Nocterro.

Excited? I am not.

The title of Nocterro’s most recent post at Urban Philosophy is A Conversion. The title is puzzling. In what way has Nocterro experienced a “conversion”? One thing is for certain; he is no Christian. Nocterro has merely changed his position on the matter of the existence of “God”. He now professes to be a theist.

Not only is “conversion” not being used in a Christian sense here but neither is “God”. One learns quickly that what Nocterro has in view in his post is far from a description of the Christian God. It is readily apparent that Nocterro provides a definition of his own god suitable to his liking. No really. Go check it out. Nocterro begins with what he believes to be reasonable apart from the existence of God and then seeks to make his god conform to those standards. Meanwhile the Christian God cannot be known through the methods Nocterro employs.

Nocterro has not moved up any ‘scale’. Classical apologists and ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ may teach that there is some sort of scale which ranges from Atheism all the way ‘up’ to Christianity and that people can ‘move up’ this scale going through (for example) agnosticism, Buddhism, deism, and theism on their way to Christianity but this is not a teaching that is derived from Scripture. One either stands with Jesus Christ or against Him. There is no neutrality. Those who build upon the shifting sand rather than the solid rock will be washed away. Nocterro is just as much an unbeliever now as he was from the womb. So while apologists may celebrate over such “conversions to theism” as Nocterro and Antony Flew have entered into I do not join their party. When did our thinking about Christian apologetics become so twisted and thoroughly unbiblical?

It needs to be made exceedingly clear that Nocterro did not change his view due to our debate. I still plan to write a closing statement in said debate. Nocterro instead employs an argument for a necessary being using deductive logic. I presume he still takes logic to be necessary without such an argument. (It is a bit puzzling to me as well.) Nocterro also contends that “things can only be necessary or contingent.” Here Nocterro must apply the Law of Excluded Middle with respect to N v C. He presumably still believes this law is necessary and employs it in an argument for…a necessary.

Nocterro goes on to assure us that “something contingent cannot cause the beginning of the existence of contingent things; this thing would have to cause itself to do that.” Now I did not look at the argument very closely yet but why must there be a “beginning” of the existence of contingent things at all? Setting this question aside my mind immediately moves to another; how does one know that a contingent thing cannot be uncaused?

How does all of this square with Nocterro’s intuitive Neo-Confucianism?

And people wonder why I have such major issues with classical apologetics…


31 Comments

Josh

I just want to record my opinion, as a Christian thinker, that I (with all due respect) disagree with the thesis of this post. My journey back to Christian belief went through stages and was led by the types of philosophical arguments N discusses. I have many peers who report similar stories. I’m worried that your criticism of N’s situation could present an obstacle to his wanting to take the next step toward a genuine relationship with God.

As for being unbiblical, my own view of Paul’s epistles (for example) is that God provides general revelation through creation and that that can be an important first step toward entering into a relationship with God (through the atonement of Christ).

Another note about being unbiblical: I wonder what verses one might use to establish either of the following: “The book of Enoch is not the inspired word of God” or that “The book of II Peter is the inspired word of God”… I suspect these beliefs (assuming you have them) are grounded more in history than in biblical authority itself. (Not that you’d disagree with this.)

A minor note: the argument N discusses doesn’t require that there actually is a beginning or that beginnings actually have causes. Be slow to speak, quick to listen… (must remind myself of that, too)

Mitchell LeBlanc

Just a few things to note, are you now asking Nocterro to “account” for the logical laws in *addition* to your asking him to account for warrant? That seems to me an entirely different discussion that you did not hint at in your previous posts to him.

Mitchell LeBlanc

By a few things to note, I meant one… since I’m late for class!

C.L. Bolt

Edit: “Please note that this post is not a part of my current debate with Nocterro.”

I did not ask Nocterro to account for logical laws anywhere in this post.

Mitchell LeBlanc

Perhaps you didn’t ask it outright but you seem to be implying that he can’t answer that question and his newfound theism is invalidated. *shrugs*

While this post is not a part of the debate, should one take your mention of such laws in this post to mean that even if Nocterro properly accounts for warrant under a non-Christian view he must additionally account for some other things? Shouldn’t you have included this note in your opening post to him? If one of your main theses in the discussion was that Nocterro *must* presuppose God it seems kind of odd that you’d not make a mention of the accounting of logic, but only make a mention of accounting for warrant. It’s almost as if it’s a type of trump card: “Well Nocterro may have accounted for warrant, but what about logic?” Or did you intend that to be a separate discussion?

Also, I’m sure you’ve read the note on Nocterro’s post. I’d be more than happy to continue the discussion on Neo-Confucianism with you if you’d like, but that’s entirely up to you. Cheers!

C.L. Bolt

“Perhaps you didn’t ask it outright”

Correct. I did not.

“you seem to be implying that he can’t answer that question”

Where?

“and his newfound theism is invalidated.”

Unless there is some valid response to my concerns.

Your other questions are not relevant to the post.

Mitchell LeBlanc

Oh come on Chris, I’ve nowhere else to talk to you other than on comments here and at UP so I won’t always be commenting with specific regard to this post. If you’re just going to not answer my questions because you think they may not pertain to the article, at least toss me a weekly e-mail or something =P

I’m merely asking you if the logic issue is something you intended to raise after Nocterro provided you with his explanation of warrant? If you didn’t mean to imply that he can’t do it, then sorry for assuming that. Though, I expect that you do actually think this and the basis for this is every other conversation I’ve had with you.

C.L. Bolt

“Oh come on Chris, I’ve nowhere else to talk to you other than on comments here and at UP so I won’t always be commenting with specific regard to this post.”

But you were commenting with specific regard to this post as is evident by more than just the fact that you are commenting on this post.

“If you’re just going to not answer my questions because you think they may not pertain to the article, at least toss me a weekly e-mail or something =P”

Shoot me an email at chrisbolt@ymail.com but I cannot guarantee I will get to it right away or that I will not keep at least some information to myself given that I hope to debate a lot of these things in a more formal setting.

“I’m merely asking you if the logic issue is something you intended to raise after Nocterro provided you with his explanation of warrant?”

Well wait and see. 🙂

“If you didn’t mean to imply that he can’t do it, then sorry for assuming that.”

Right I did not mean to imply it either here or in the debate posts.

“Though, I expect that you do actually think this”

Sure.

“and the basis for this is every other conversation I’ve had with you.”

Many of them but not all.

fleetmouse

“Now I did not look at the argument very closely yet but why must there be a “beginning” of the existence of contingent things at all?”

I’d love to hear more abut your views on the cosmological / first mover / contingency-necessity class of apologetic arguments. What about infinite causal regress – is that a problem and why or why not?

C.L. Bolt

There could be an infinite regress of contingent entities. The argument from the impossibility of infinite causal regress begs the question.

Mitchell LeBlanc

The argument does not suggest that there must be a beginning of contingent things, its suggesting that there *can* be and based on this broad logical possibility it suggests that no contingent thing can be the cause of existence of the exemplification of the property of “being contingent”. That’s where it derives the necessary being.

I’m not sure if I agree however, but I don’t think your criticism is relevant. Even in a situation where we have some sort of infinite causal chain of contingent causes, if there *could* be a beginning then the argument has established that crucial premise.

fleetmouse

That’s a contradiction, Mitch. What sort of infinite causal chain could have a beginning? The non-infinite sort? 🙂

C.L. Bolt

Nocterro wrote “something contingent cannot cause the beginning of the existence of contingent things; this thing would have to cause itself to do that” which is different from “no contingent thing can be the cause of existence of the exemplification of the property of ‘being contingent'”.

In my last comment I was responding to fleetmouse’s question. fleetmouse is correct to say that given a situation where there is an infinite causal chaing of contingent causes there cannot be a beginning in a physical sense but I am not sure that is true in the case of a logical sense. Anyway I will look over the argument again at some point in light of the clarification.

Mitchell LeBlanc

@Fleetmouse: I’m talking here about logical possibility so even if there is an infinite causal chain, it might still be true that there *can* be a beginning to the exemplification of contingent things.

@Chris: I think Noc’s statement has to be taken in the context of the paper, he’d already presented the argument before that, which I think is quite clear in showing that he is indeed referring to “contingent things causing the existence of the exemplification…” Premise (2) seems to make that clear, he says there “can” be. It might be worth a re-look, in light of the clarification, as you’ve said.

fleetmouse

Oh, OK that clarifies things. Yes, a causal beginning is logically possible, in the sense of not entailing contradiction. I think. Maybe. But not if you’re a substance monist.

C.L. Bolt

Since it is true that either the exemplification of contingent things did begin or the exemplification of contingent things did not begin it is false that “[E]ven if there is an infinite causal chain, it might still be true that there *can* be a beginning to the exemplification of contingent things.” It is not logically possible in that case.

Mitchell LeBlanc

@Chris: Your reasoning is only true if it is *necessarily* true that an infinite causal chain exists, this is a claim that your Christian theism doesn’t permit you to make so I assume you don’t think this. As such, in our situation here, it is only contingently true that there is a infinite causal chain, but if it’s only *contingently* true then it could fail to be the case – the infinite causal chain *could* fail to exist (even if it never does).

So, to abstract a bit, if it’s not *necessarily* true that there can be no beginning to the exemplification of contingent things, then a beginning to the exemplification of contingent things is logically possible, even if there never is one. Like I said, I can’t see you accepting the claim that “necessarily, there can be no beginning to the exemplification of contingent things” because amongst other issues, it seems to me that it’d completely rule out God creating the Universe.

C.L. Bolt

I am not making an argument there in terms of my worldview. The classic theistic proofs as I understand them attempt to prove the existence of God without presupposing Him from the beginning of the argument. In other words I am pointing out problems with attempting to reason one’s way to God as Nocterro would attempt to do as opposed to from Him as I would do.

Mitchell LeBlanc

Granting that, I do not see how your criticism follows. Why does it follow from the fact that there *is* an infinite causal chain, to the fact that there *has* to be one. And further, how does it follow from there *is* not a beginning to the exemplification of the beginning of contingent things (ex hypothesi) to there *cannot* be such an exemplification?

C.L. Bolt

It may not but I still need to think it through more. Alas, I have church tomorrow and you should too if you think it is even logically possible that God exists. :p Are you still planning to send me an email?

Mitchell LeBlanc

Haha, not about this specifically but I’m sure there’ll be something that crosses my mind in the future which causes me to say, “Oh, I should e-mail Bolt about this…” =)

Josh

Bolt,

I’m actually quite curious: why think one cannot reason to God without presupposing God? Email me: jrasmus1@gmail.com

C.L. Bolt

One answer is that reason presupposes God. If you are asking for an argument to this end then we can talk about that. I am understanding your question in terms of apologetic method. I apologize if this is not a correct understanding of what you are asking.

Consider then:

Empiricist Billy is presented with argument A and argument B.
A is predicated upon the negation of empiricism.
B is predicated upon the affirmation of empiricism.

Billy accepts B without any problems but the same cannot be said about A. In order to accept A Billy must reject his empiricism since A is predicated upon the negation of empiricism. The matter is presuppositional.

Any argument which is predicated upon the Christian worldview presupposes the Christian worldview.

Any argument which is predicated upon the negation of the Christian worldview cannot affirm the Christian worldview.

A worldview is either Christian or non-Christian. There is no neutrality. Since Christ is Lord of all, an allegedly neutral position is itself non-Christian.

Hope this helps and thank you for your comment!

Josh

Thanks Bolt.

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by the word, ‘presuppose’. Perhaps I could put my question without using that term: “do you think that someone can rationally come to believe in God on the basis of an argument?” If not, then I’m curious as to why you think that?

If you say “yes” and “because reason presupposes God,” then perhaps you could clarify what you mean by presuppose. Do you mean that if there are logical truths, then God exists? Or do you mean that no one can rationally accept a logical truth without first believing in God? Or do you mean something else?

Josh

I meant if you say “no” and… 🙂

C.L. Bolt

I am going to email you.

Also, I did not notice your first comment before so I will have to respond to it when I get some time.

notbillbright

“Classical apologists and ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ may teach that there is some sort of scale which ranges from Atheism all the way ‘up’ to Christianity and that people can ‘move up’ this scale going through (for example) agnosticism, Buddhism, deism, and theism on their way to Christianity but this is not a teaching that is derived from Scripture.”

Where does Campus Crusade for Christ teach this?

C.L. Bolt

Hello notbillbright,

I am going off of what I was taught by a number of representatives of CCC at different times while I was the President of a local chapter. I do not know where this idea appears in CCC literature (of which I am sure I have barely scratched the surface).

Thanks.

RazorsKiss

Classical apologists certainly teach it 🙂

Matthias

What a silly post. Of course our small movements towards God are important. Just like how a newborn baby develops an understanding of his mothers face, voice, touch, smell, etc, so many of us have to develop in our ability to recognize God for who He is.

Does that mean that this fellow is saved just by believing some force known as God exists? No. Can we rejoice that he is at least one logical step closer towards perhaps finding the true God? Absolutely. So sad for you to minimize such a thing.

Cheers,

BK

Matthias –

I’m wondering, are you familiar with Presuppositional Apologetics and/or Reformed Theology? I ask this because you claim the post is “silly”, but don’t offer any argument in support of your position. The basis that Chris is arguing from is entirely consistent with both a Presupp approach and with a Reformed view of scripture. You do offer an analogy, but of course analogies don’t prove anything – they just make it easier to understand one’s position.

Perhaps the actual issue you have with this post is with the method of apologetics and/or theology that underpins it. It would be interesting to hear how familiar you are with each, and (if familiar) where you stand in relation to them.

BK


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