Sye Ten Bruggencate
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Sye Ten Bruggencate, a.k.a., Sye TenB., is an internet personality in his own right and a regular contributor to Eric Hovind's "Creation Today" videos. The videos promote anti-science and biblical literalism and disseminate false information about science with the goal of indoctrinating children and vulnerable adults.
Ten Bruggencate is internet famous for his aggressive indifference towards any reasoned response to his own argument, which consists of a single idea nowhere near as interesting as he insists it is. It is an argument based upon the widely discredited ideas of Immanuel Kant, with a reworking of a very old problem in the philosophy of mind tagged on the side, e.g., How do we know what we know is true, if we judge the reliability of our understanding according to attributes which are inherent to the very knowledge we wish to measure? Ten Bruggencate's refusal to accept that, when stripped of semantics, problems of this kind are rendered meaningless by accepting the primacy of existence axiom, often sees him play the hurt feelings card and use language synonymous with the "crazy Christian" stereotype.
Taking morality as an example of that which we wish to measure, Ten Bruggencate asserts that we can only know the difference between what is right and what is wrong if we have an absolute standard of morality by which to judge our actions against. As a Christian, Ten Bruggencate’s absolute standard of morality is the God of the Bible, Yahweh.
When presented with the fact that, in the Bible, Yahweh repeatedly commands his adherents to carry out acts of genocide, rape, enslavement, torture and the genital mutilation of infants, Ten Bruggencate's position is that those who point out this obvious challenge to God’s moral authority are in no position to judge His actions, since atheism cannot account for an absolute standard of morality.
He repeats this over and over on the assumption that it will eventually either make sense, or distract attention away from the fact that atheistic positions on morality don't in fact depend on the kind of absolutism he nevertheless insists they do. Not to mention that the whole point was that the Bible, in those verses, is failing to live up to the morality of Christians themselves; otherwise they wouldn't evade the question in this way.
Ten Bruggencate is extremely sincere in his religious beliefs and enthusiastic about sharing them with others. The Achilles' heel of his argument is a coupling of his refusal to accept the syllogism at the heart of his own proposal with his eagerness to reassign this characteristic towards anyone who happens to point it out.
When asked to provide arguments or evidence for the existence of God, he argues:
- Evidence and reasoning is usually provided in a court of law.
- In a court of law, the judge is the person to whom you present evidence and arguments.
- If I provide someone with evidence or arguments regarding the existence of God, I am confirming that they are the judge.
- But they are not the judge. God is the judge. Therefore no evidence or argument needs to be presented to people.
Contrary to some conservative politicians who still feel the need to pay lip service to stinky ole democracy which unfairly persecutes the ones who love to persecute others who do not share their Christian beliefs, Sye Ten advocates for the implementation of Christian theocracy or rather theodemocracy, depending on what his mood was during a debate he had with Matt Dillahunty.
Ten Bruggencate and atheism
Ten Bruggencate subscribes to an all-too-common view of atheism — that atheists are in willful denial of what they know to be true. His most notorious 15 megabytes of fame came when he issued a challenge to the illusionist, public speaker, outspoken atheist, executive producer of the TV series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and one half of the magic duo Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette, to debate him on atheism versus Christianity.
There is no evidence Jillette ever received an invitation to this debate, and the only mention of it ever having been issued may be found on pro-creationist websites to which Ten Bruggencate is either directly or loosely affiliated. On Jillette's June 10, 2016 Podcast, Penn Sunday School, Jillette confirmed that his manager, Glenn Alai, had received a request for a debate, but had not made Jillette aware of it until after the Reason Rally 2016.
Ten Bruggencate's one idea comes in the form of a series of straw man arguments and creationist escape hatch questions, for which there is no "yes" or "no," "right" or "wrong" answer. These questions follow a cascading script of ever more irrational assumptions, so that no matter which answer to whichever question is given, it always leads to the same conclusion; chief among these is the argument that knowledge is impossible without an absolute source, i.e. God (his God, of course).
In a podcast debate between Ten Bruggencate, Eric Hovind and the hosts of the Fundamentally Flawed podcast, both Hovind and Ten Bruggencate admitted on several occasions that presuppositional apologetics is circular in nature. Hence as a means of proving the existence of Yahweh it is a conclusion drawn from its own proposition and, therefore, any claim to have evidence for the existence of the Christian God is based upon a logical fallacy. Having realized they had inadvertently undone their own argument, the duo went on to assert that this is no different from the atheistic position on sense, reason and memory, since without a belief in God it is "impossible to prove anything," including Darwinian evolution by means of natural selection, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and myriad other scientific facts which have cast doubt over the alleged inerrancy of the Bible for hundreds of years — thus using a circular argument (their presuppositionalism) to try to claim someone else's argument is circular.
Ten Bruggencate denies that his methods are viciously circular (instead dubbing them 'virtuously circular'), despite the fact that his own website demonstrates this perfectly. The basis of this claim is that because his arguments are based on God, they cannot be circular because God is the ultimate authority and only justification needed to validate his argument. So, basically, he knows he is right because God told him so, and he knows God is right because it says so in a book which tells him God is right. And he knows the book is right because God told him so. It's practically the definition of circular reasoning.
His understanding of what constitutes a valid criticism of circular reasoning, versus his denial that he uses exactly the same methods, has led some to speculate that he might be being deliberately provocative, in order to raise his profile as a public speaker — rather than that he genuinely believes the creator of the Universe would choose to communicate with people who already believe He exists, by remaining invisible to those who have repeatedly proven the origins of the Yahweh myth reside in bronze-age folklore.
Ten Bruggencate uses a quote by Greg Bahnsen to explain his beliefs. Bahnsen, in Pushing the Antithesis, wrote:
In the Christian worldview, however, the Christian is not engaged in viciously circular argument, a circular argument on the same plane. We appeal above and beyond the temporal realm. God's self-revelation in nature and in Scripture informs us of the two-level universe. God is not a fact like other facts in the world. He is the Creator and Establisher of all else. His existence alone makes the universe, and reason, and human experience possible… The "circularity" of a transcendental argument is not at all the same as the fallacious "circularity" of an argument in which the conclusion is a restatement (in one form or another) of one of its premises.
For this reason Ten Bruggencate personifies many aspects of Poe's Law. For example, a page of buttons on Ten Bruggencate's Proof That God Exists webpage appear to ask a series of multiple choice questions on logic and rational thinking. Each button literally links back on itself in an infinite loop, until the reader either clicks an answer button which makes a demonstrably false statement or is so ambiguously phrased that it couldn't possibly have been written by someone genuinely concerned with resolving their own confusion.
If, however, the reader chooses the answer "I don't care if truth exists", they are immediately directed to the Disneyland website. With the long lines of screaming kids and frustrated adults it seems like he's wishing to send them on their way to hell. But perhaps we can just exegete the meaning here and apply it to our lives that we should just stop worrying and enjoy life and have a little fun before our universe ceases to exist.
But if the reader chooses the answer button which leads to the exit page the author always intended for them to reach, the promised proof that God exists is finally displayed, which simply reads, "The Proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn't prove anything." Circular reasoning indeed.
In 1920, the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists declared metaphysical truth-claims of this nature as essentially meaningless, so as to clarify the definition of concepts in empirical science as an exploration of their immediately observable content. This strict definition was later relaxed by Karl Popper, who favored the falsifiability of a theory over the verifiability of a hypothesis.
Ten Bruggencate's entire argument is therefore predicated upon a semantic confusion between strict definitions of this kind in science, and the informal use of words such as theory and logic in common parlance. Therefore, as is also found with many other presuppositional apologists, his own inability to differentiate between a description of X and an analysis of the description itself, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, leads him to incorrectly assume that because he cannot delineate what something describes from what it means, no one else can either.
In addition, Ten Bruggencate's point that you cannot know anything without God is easily proven false by its own conditions. Firstly, if you were to admit that you couldn't know everything, then you of course could never know that God exists, disproving the basis for his argument. And secondly, his argument follows a flow of logic which tries to establish that if a person could be wrong about something, then they could be wrong about everything. This is faulty because there is one thing a person can know for certain about their knowledge, and that's that they don't know everything. If a person can be sure that they don't know everything, then they can be sure that they can't be wrong about everything, because they already know something. And they're not wrong about that. So, because a person can know this one thing, it is, in fact, possible to know something without God, meaning that God is unnecessary for knowledge.
Threats and lies
The mental acrobatics Ten Bruggencate has to perform when presented with the facts about his methods often results in a dark satire of religious groupthink and other forms of confirmation bias. That he is completely oblivious to the fact he demonstrates this every time he opens his mouth or sets pen to paper, has made him the unwitting poster-child of circular reasoning in various debating circles, albeit to an extremely limited clique.
Because of this, it has been argued that to merely engage him on the intellectual level he incorrectly assumes he is capable of operating on, is to give the fish all the oxygen he needs to outgrow his small pond. Others have argued that it is better to examine his ideas and reveal their weaknesses than allow him to continue operating under the delusion that they have merit.
Ten Bruggencate therefore has a number of outstanding challenges open to him on many websites, blogs and discussion forums, which he rarely responds to directly except to demand that other people account for his own misunderstanding, choosing instead to respond to his many critics by posting to his own comment-disabled blog, invariably with the aid of quote-mined snippets of text lifted from topics unrelated to the question at hand. This, and his repeated refusals to engage with his many critics on any topic outside of the TAG, has seen him banned from a number of websites and blog comment threads.
He frequently justifies his stonewall approach to debating any aspect of Christianity with non-Christians by threatening them with the fires of Hell for their failure to agree that engaging in such a conversation would require that they first acknowledge the existence of Yahweh. Repeat, ad nauseam.
Unfortunately for the moderators of sites which are then given no choice but to ban him for using threatening language, this merely plays into his underlying persecution complex, leading him to play the hurt feelings card with anyone only willing to listen to his side of the story, which seldom bears any resemblance to a true reflection of the facts. His having been caught playing this game on numerous occasions has given rise to a supreme irony: that very often one of the few things both Christians and atheists can agree upon, in online debates which Ten Bruggencate has involved himself in, is that he alienates as many religious folk seeking common ground with nonbelievers as he does atheists who demand nothing less than freedom of religious expression for their many interlocutors who, unlike Ten Bruggencate, do not make the case for Christianity by resorting to threats and fear theology.
Therefore, albeit to an extremely limited audience of dominionist evangelicals, who are either willfully ignorant of, or genuinely oblivious to, the kind of bait and switch debating techniques he employs, Ten Bruggencate's exclusion from numerous debating forums is merely "yet more proof" that it is his ideas which atheists find uncomfortable, when in reality it is dealing with someone only interested in listening to themselves which proves the bigger challenge.
- Essay:Refutation of 'Proof That God Exists'
- Essay:Criticism of 'What About Other Gods?' by Sye Ten Bruggencate