Shadowboxing

Derek Sansone is a man on a mission. He is a Roman Catholic cum Calvinist cum Atheist that is seeking out Christians to debate. But I think he also has a secret mission; I think he’s secretly a Christian whose mission is to make Christianity look good by appearing at debates and getting his butt kicked. Or at least that’s the effect, anyways.

They say, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well Sansone has a plethora of tools in his rhetorical toolbox, including “Who cares?” “Big deal!” “So what?” “Whatever!” I don’t plan on listening to the whole debate again, but if anybody does, please do me a favor and make a tally of the number of times he uses one of those phrases (and I’m sure there a few others I’m forgetting) as a logician would use “Q.E.D.” I bet it’s well over 100 through the one hour of his allotted time. Vincent Cheung does well to label Sansone’s debating style “Psycho-Assertionism”.

Just because it’s so funny, I laboriously reproduce this transcript from Sansone’s first rebuttal. If you want to hear more of Sansone’s views on logic, listen to the seven-minute .wma at that link, but this transcription starts at 2:05

If you really boil it down, logic is based on a variable: one! Math is based on the logical principal of one. What is logic? Why is it such a big deal? It’s this human convention that is based on the axiom of existence — of identity. We all have individual identities, and the corollaries of the law of logic — the second and third laws — they’re all based on that. But big deal! What is that really saying? I can’t be anything but Derek! And logical inference comes from our own internal historical path, like I said, of experience. When we infer, we conclude based on our particulars. And we share those conclusions. No one’s that secure with their conclusions. On a first date you don’t go into the date, going “this is what I love to do”, and you pour everything out on the table. No, you wait! Because there are intrinsics down the road that you want, and so holding back may be a compromise, it may be instrumental in acheiving something greater. And those inferences are based relatively.

And so we see that Sansone’s rhetorical toolbox also includes debating techniques with fancy latin names like non sequitur. If you want to accuse me of unfairly taking him out of context, you are free to listen to the whole debate yourself. But the disjointed meaninglessness of the first long quote is merely amusing, and he can be excused for not being a skilled debater or even public speaker. Here is a second quote (beginning at 3:43):

Laws of logic. Where are they? Write them down! There they are — they’re material. They’re written on a piece of paper. They’re contingent on the material paper. They’re contingent on me writing them. No problem for me!

This refrain of Sansone’s perfectly illustrates the magnitude (or should I say minitude) of the problem Paul Manata had to deal with in this debate: how do you debate somebody who doesn’t believe in a shared, universal system of logic under which laws debate can be conducted — somebody who says (and yes, these are literal quotes): “logic is fluff”, or “I don’t use logic…I do use some of the principles of logic”? (You can guess which of those immediate-proximity contradictory statements I believe is true!)

I haven’t talked to Paul yet about my impressions of this debate (and yes, I do know Paul), but I surmise from his opening statement that he was prepared to establish agreement on absolute, universally invariant laws of logic, step up to universally invariant laws of morality, and proceed to discussion of the Christian God. But with an opponent like this, Paul was forced to spend most of the allotted debate time mired in Sansone’s lunacy. In the few brief forays into discussion of moral laws, Sansone didn’t even have anything sensible to say in the realm of societal consensus on right and wrong. So if pressed to declare a winner in this debate, I’d have to say that Paul didn’t win — how can you win at shadowboxing? But Derek did nothing but survive by evasion — even a man with no arms can survive a boxing match if he can jump high enough.

Anyways, if you are interested in listening to the debate, you can find all of the .wma here. It burns nicely onto two CDs for amusing listening for a few days of commuting. And you can find Paul Manata’s post-debate reflections on his blog. Derek Sansone mentioned at the end of the debate that he has a website, and his cellphone is posted there for anyone who wants to discuss his apostasy with him — but I couldn’t find it with Google. If anybody else can (or if The Sansone drops by himself), I will be glad to link that here as well.

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26 Responses

  1. It could have been worse. Can you imagine this exchange:

    Christian: OK Athiest, how do you account for certain material objects (say, humans) having consciousness and other material objects (say, bicycles) not having consciousness.

    Athiest: Hold that thought. I would like to get back to on that.

    Christian: Oh. You need a bathroom break, or what?

    Athiest: No. I just think I may need to get back to you later.

    Christian: Oh. Okay. How soon can we resume the debate then. How about tomorrow?

    Athiest: No. But a thousand years may suffice.

  2. I doubt any atheist would hesitate to answer that humans have consciousness because, being gently electrified bags of meat, they have brains, while bicycles do not.

    Using terminological distinctions from recent posts, I think a question that fits better would be:

    Christian: OK Atheist, how do you account for certain conscious objects (say, humans) having Will and Morality, and other conscious objects (say, apes) not having Will or Morality?

  3. I won’t give you the GEBOM because bicycles have gently electrified collections of material too. You can’t posit consciousness just because the material is softer. Ultimately, we get down to quarks (or so I have been told).

    Further, what is this leap from brain to consciousness that you have made? I guess while your argument from will or morality is fine, I think you are giving them a free pass on consciousness even in an ape. They need to explain ape consciousness just as certainly as they need to account for never having seen two bicycles fall in love.

  4. What’s a GEBOM? And what’s consciousness? It’s a very slippery term, and the definition we settled on (or I, as blogorreist, took the liberty of asserting) is synonymous with ‘awareness’, such that it applies to apes and (pre-)newborns (or at least I don’t think I can deny it). Maybe you are thinking of a definition of consciousness that is more like self-awareness, which I think would be in doubt for apes (and newborns!).

  5. Gently Electrified Bags Of Meat. Consider this a thread hijacking. Good luck getting it back on track.

  6. I dunno. I briefly scanned the Sansone-Cheung debacle and found myself thinking that Cheung’s game is easily played by anyone. As long as you never posit anything yourself, you can sit there knocking as many holes in the other guy’s words as you like. Aren’t Christians admonished in the epistles (I don’t remember the reference right now) to refrain from having an unhealthy interest in quarrels, or in quibbling about words? The only assertion I caught Cheung making (again, in my very brief scan) was that he didn’t want to spend time on Sansone — but then look at all the time he devoted!

    Of course, I’m sitting here knocking holes in Cheung’s method, rather than positing myself. So here goes: Cheung should have respectfully declined from the beginning. That would have been much more edifying for everyone involved.

    Not that dialogue or debate is impossible. Your dialogues with limejelly are a great example of that. I just don’t think either Sansone or Cheung are deserving of a place at your table.

  7. Speaking of which, was Judas a Christian?

  8. Cheung’s approach is to challenge the materialist for an explanation of knowledge. How do you know? He wants to know literally how the materialist knows things. As such, I think his approach is quite valid. He also answers all Sansone’s questions with “read my book on . . . .” Not a bad answer.

    FWIW, Paul M. has written a lengthy piece taking issue with Cheung’s apologetic method at a very detailed low level. You can find on that Paul’s blog. When the logic symbols get pulled out, then I glaze over. Jack of some trades, master of none. That’s me.

  9. Speaking of which, was Judas a Christian?

    Speaking of what?

    I do have to say that it is possible to say that Paul did not win because the debate that actually happened was “Can materialism be true?”, so Paul failed to prove the nominal debate topic of “Does the Christian God Exist?” (Of course, by the same token, Sansone completely failed to disprove or even address the nominal topic). Cheung spends all of his time in the same debate. Perhaps this is the only debate that can be had with a materialist who believes that not even logic exists if there is no human mind to think with it.

  10. I was just horsing around, trying to get a laugh out of you… :)

  11. Cheung’s approach may be valid, but I don’t consider it dignified. “How do you know that? How do you know that? How do you know that?” Rather reminds me of that childhood game: “I made you say that. I made you say that. I made you say that.” No matter what the other person says, the same response is given. Wouldn’t a blanket statement suffice?

    Interestingly, I’d say the materialist is therefore the more consistent within his own worldview. X receives stimulus and reacts. Y receives X’s reaction as stimulus and reacts. X receives Y’s reaction as stimulus and reacts. Whether or not the reactions or stimuli are logical, or internally consistent, or even dignified, is immaterial (pun intended). Neurons are firing, and that means neurons are firing. The materialist is succeeding! So what point is there in arguing that he’s not — particularly if it draws a non-materialist into perseverating?

  12. the materialist is therefore the more consistent within his own worldview

    Huh? More consistent than whom?

    X receives stimulus and reacts. Y receives X’s reaction as stimulus and reacts. X receives Y’s reaction as stimulus and reacts.

    Is this a plausible materialist’s explanation of how humans know things?

    Regardless of what it reminds you of, Cheung has a right to demand from his opponent an explanation for how a materialist comes to know and use words. Cheung isn’t repetitively asking just to be cute. The fact that Sansone can’t answer his simple question should alert you to something, no?

  13. I was just horsing around

    Ahh, I see — you too have the debating skill of non sequitur!

    Concerning Cheung vs. Sansone, it only takes one debater to bring a debate to a halt; if one side fails to address the arguments of the other side, and just keeps asserting what he has said before (‘Psycho-assertionism’), then the other side has little choice but to re-assert the counter-arguments that have failed to be address. Etcetera ad infinitum. And that’s what Sansone does.

    Note that I didn’t put the Cheung link up there to make my point, but only to show how Derek Sansone seeks out these kinds of confrontations. I agree that Cheung’s tone is uncharitable, and probably not a good witness. Paul is much better in this respect, but he is still stymied by Sansone’s inability to debate.

  14. Huh? More consistent than whom?

    More consistent than the Christian who is admonished to refrain from quibbling over words. The materialist has no such admonishment to follow, and therefore is free to quibble (stimulating and reacting, stimulating and reacting) as he likes without contradicting himself (in his mind). For a strict materialist, language is content-free.

    Cheung isn’t repetitively asking just to be cute. The fact that Sansone can’t answer his simple question should alert you to something, no?

    Hey, I’m not agreeing with Sansone here, only suggesting that his conduct is to be expected, as well as internally consistent with his content-free speech — whereas Cheung’s is less so, on both counts.

    And that’s all the quibbling from me on this. As I said, it was poor of me even to weigh in, not having read through the entire transcript.

    (By the way, Reub, I was hoping the substitution in my last comment was “draw a nonmaterialist into perseverating”, because I was most appalled at the rut Cheung had fallen into.) [RR: oopx!  Sorry about that.  It’s fixed now]

  15. Without having read or listened to the debate, I’d like to weigh in on this one a little bit.

    Regarding apologetics, one strategy is to use the Proverbs 26:4-5:

    “4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    Lest you also be like him.
    5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
    Lest he be wise in his own eyes. ”

    First, we don’t agree to “assume neutrality.” We cannot deny the very God we serve when trying to defend Him. It is only God that gives us a solid ground to stand on. Once we fall for the trap of “pretend you don’t know if God exists,” then we’ve already lost (our footing at least).

    Secondly, we answer the fool according to his own folly. In other words, we show him or the audience in the case of a debate, the utter folliness that he has for a foundation. Some people do this better than others. Hence, if someone is debating and constantly asking “how do you know that?’ without going further, they’re trying to expose the lack of foundation this atheist has. It may be better to try and show how these atheists actually take for granted the existence of God in their very use of rationality and such.

    Hope that was worth two pennies! :)

    Jeff

  16. If you haven’t heard this debate before, it is well worth the time. Here is a link to a free download of a zip file with the entire debate which shows exactly how to argue using Proverbs 26:4-5 as your basis:

    http://www.reese.org/tapes/gd.zip

  17. Just to remind everybody again, the whole point of this post was not to discuss Cheung vs. Sansone, but Manata vs. Sansone. Manata does a much better job than Cheung regarding a respectful tone, and it is also apparent (at least to me) that Sansone is the only one in the debate that is quibbling. Manata attacks from a number of different angles, and Sansone persists in his Psycho-Assertionism.

    So I guess you all have to go listen to Manata vs. Sansone now. (Jeff, do you want my CDs? I can give them to you Sunday.)

  18. RE Manata style vs. Cheung style: Cheung is in writing, Manata is in person, face to face with a listening audience.

  19. True, but Manata, in his debate, was not condescending. I bet, if Cheung were to face Sansone in a verbal debate, his tone would not change, and it would be detrimental to the impact of his arguments on the audience (and detrimental to his witness of the love of Christ).

  20. RubeRAD, why can’t I copy text in order to paste it here for a quote?

    “(Jeff, do you want my CDs?”

    Sure. Thanks.

  21. I don’t know why you might be having copy/paste problems. It certainly should be possible; I do it all the time.

    I’ll bring the CDs Sunday.

  22. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that I’ll be retricting my parts in all these discussions to our blogs. I won’t be doing it meat-bag to meat-bag in September.

  23. Sorry, comment 23 was me.

  24. Hi Guys,

    Can you show me one single point that I raised that was reffuted in my Manata? Can you show, not just assert, but actually demonstrate that I was in error in any of my rebuttles or arguments?

    I have the audio, and if you want to revert to it just make it clear to which section you have issue with.

    If you do, then I will stay and engage this blog. But if not, I will leave you to your complaints.

    Thanks

  25. So you finally made it to the party, eh Derek (I guess from your chill demeanor in the debate audio that you won’t mind if I call you Derek instead of the unduly formal Mr. Sansone). We all have the audio, as I linked it at the end of the post, and as I noted, I wanted to link to a website of yours, but I couldn’t find one. Just let me know…

    I only listened to the debate once, and that was two months ago, so I guess I’ll have to go listen again to drum up specifics, but my impression was that you didn’t provide any arguments, but only assertions.

    How’s this though; your denial of the absolute existence of logic was rebutted by the fact that you showed up for a debate.

    Keep in mind, however, that for the next month or two, I will be too busy to devote as much attention to my blog as I would like. So you’ll have to be content with the limited amount of attention I can give you, unless my thousands of adoring fans would like to contribute.

    In the meantime, you might be interested in an old post of mine concerning the inadequacy of science here. That particular post is the gateway to a number of other places where I have discussed such issues on this blog, and some of my friends’ blogs, so if you probe all the links, I think you’ll find plenty of discussion relevant to the theist vs. materialist debate.

  26. […] The point is this: atheists (like Derek Sansone) often say things like (and this is just a paraphrase from memory) “Where is God? Show him to me? Let me touch him, feel him, measure him, examine him — then I’ll believe! You can’t prove that God exists unless you can concretely demonstrate him.” The first statement is an unreasonable demand, the second is just wrong; Sansone is relying on the incorrect assumption that the only possible standard of proof that a thing exists, is to show the thing (this is not surprising, given his belief in an entirely materialistic universe). […]

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