Yesterday I had a very pleasant online discussion with Sye and Stephany about atheism and christianity. And Sye’s very specific position, namely christian presuppositionalism. I was a bit nervous doing this live and online for the first time, despite that I think I presented my case well enough. Also thanks to how nice both Stephany and Sye were. Thank you both!

I did want to leave a few notes around the main points, and a few things on what wasn’t said.

Main Difference

This is our main difference: I am a skeptic, I think all knowledge of reality is rooted in observing the world, creating models of it, making predictions from them, where better models make better predictions. That is my epistemology. Sye adds revelation as a source of knowledge.

(Added Aug-27) Actually, listening to it now (example here 46:47), I think he is really saying all his knowledge is by revelation. And so is all my knowledge. That is an unfalsifiable claim. And it is a bad model of how we learn. Why do people then need to go to school? It also would imply learning algorithms don’t work, or we cannot understand how they work, but quite the opposite is true. In a clockwork universe, atoms in certain configurations can learn.


Sye even goes one step further, talking about me “borrowing from the god you know exists” and “the unbeliever has no justifications for” (30:21):

  • cognitive faculties are working properly;
  • laws of logic apply universally;
  • uniformity of nature;
  • induction.

I don’t think “borrow” is the right word. We observe those things. We would love to know the cause of those things. But asserting that it is from god, or can only be caused by a god, is unwarranted, even a fallacy. We can presuppose something something else (32:00) and turn his argument on its head.

Of course, Sye’s position is that god reveals this to us. But that is questionable. Even if something injects knowledge into us so we know these things, we have no way to trust such knowledge. Maybe it is exactly such an aspect of our faulty cognitive faculties. Maybe it is an imposter is hiding the real god from you. Or my favorite: if this life is a selection processes before being admitted into heaven, a god would want good people, not the blind fanatics; perhaps we are being filtered by both goodness and honest critical thinking.

Can God Give us Certainty?

Which brings me to the question Sye asked a little bit later, and I didn’t fully get what he was aiming at in that moment: “can a god give us certainty” (1:07:35). The answer is no! A god could inject us with knowledge that we are psychologically certain of. But so can the vat inject such knowledge into the brain in that vat. And the vat might be highly motivated to do so, just watch the Matrix!

There are things a god cannot do, because they are logically impossible:

  • create a married bachelor;
  • create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it;
  • prove math to be complete;
  • create love, because love requires freedom;
  • give certain knowledge to something not omniscient.

Love requires freedom, requires letting go, it cannot be forced or created or wouldn’t be real love. Knowledge to a limited being always suffers from unknown unknowns and unverifiable statements, basically the problem of skepticism.

Solving the Problem of induction

Did you notice I did do exactly that?! Induction is to systems, to laws, to rules (56:30). Not to statistics. If you read Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, every time they highlight the problem, ask yourself, is this a statistical predictor or a causal model?

Stripping away that part of the problem, we are left with the “normal” problem of skepticism. To which the answer is, we can know good models by their predictions, but we cannot know what is at the base of our reality. Nobody can disprove last-thursday-ism, it just isn’t a good model from what we already know, it’s unfalsifiable.

Fallacy of Irrelevant Thesis

Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to respond to this at all(51:30). Because this highlights why my original blog post was called “The Irony of Presuppositionalism”. Namely, someone with my world view would observe the survivor, would want to know why, but has no definite answer. Someone with Sye’s view is akin to assuming aliens protected the survivor with a force field and that he is justified to claim to know this because aliens communicate that to people who believe.

Suppressing the Truth

We should have another talk on supressing the truth (47:30). It is mostly from Romans 1. It claims we “suppress the truth by [our] wickedness” and goes on to describe that wickedness: “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice”, “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” and that “[we] not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them”. This description doesn’t fit secular societies at all, bringing into question all other claims in this chapter. (See Romans 1 verses 18, 28-32 )

Math-Universe Hypothesis

Math is the rule based manipulation of other rules and symbols. The moment you define a few rules, the same patterns always emerge. And quickly you defined something universal, that is, your freshly defined rules can be translated (mapped) into any other math system. Math is not like a house where you can choose the doors and windows and rooms. The moment you place one nail, the whole shape unfolds from it. (More on the math-universe hypothesis.)

Stephany’s Question: Origin; meaning; morality; destiny

Stephany brought up something twice, but I didn’t have a chance to respond to it, Unfortunately:

  • origin
  • meaning
  • morality
  • destiny

These are big topics that we all want answers two. While christianity brings answers, so do most religions. And where these answers touch reality, they fall short. I would want science to show what is realistic, then fill in the answers based on what we find. For now, based on our humanity, leading me to humanism.