It might be easier to get a sense that you're dealing with first-rate bullshit than to be able to identify the fallacy at work here, but this is the 'argument' Randal Rauser used in response to my critical partial review of his book.
Randal was rather butthurt by my statement that he engages in a lot of "making shit up", calling that "uncharitable". That's weird... I call it accurate, and I spent a good chunk of the review explaining why I thought he was just making shit up. Frankly I could not care less whether Randal thinks I'm not being nice enough by calling a spade a spade. Randal pointed out that the book is not intended for non-believers, but that was a pretty irrelevant point because I acknowledge as much in my post. The problem for Randal is the even granted as much, there doesn't seem to be any method to his madness. Whether he was attempting to address the issues I was interested in or not, he never provided any kind of justification for his speculative assertions about the nature of Heaven.
So, when Randal complained about my supposed lack of "charity" – his use of the term being really a bastardization – I replied as follows:
And down the rabbit hole we go. Now, verification and falsification, even if one does not believe they are the sole valid justification for beliefs, are universally agreed upon to be one valid justification for beliefs. Essentially, saying a proposition cannot be falsified is simply a way of saying that there is no evidential basis to establish it as true or false. And when Randal objects to falsification of ideas by trying undermine the entire concept, he's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If we can't use evidence to verify or falsify claims, then all evidence-based claims are unreliable – and surely even Randal doesn't believe such a thing.
Worse for Randal, he's wrong: I most certainly do not take the position that "Any truth claim which is neither verifiable or falsifiable is made up shit". Rather, I take the position that claims which can be neither verified nor falsified – in other words, for which evidence of their truth or falsity is in principle impossible to establish – are indistinguishable from "made-up shit".
It's entirely possible that everything Randal wrote in his book about Heaven is spot-on and true. It's also possible that he made it all up. The pertinent question – and this seems so obvious to me that it seems absurd to have to spell it out – is how we might know the difference. Falsification is merely a method by which we demarcate reliable truth-claims from unreliable ones. The unreliable claims aren't necessarily false; we just don't have any reason to think they're true.
And that's the problem with Randal's book. He just never provides his readers – and that includes the Christian audience for whom the book is intended – any reason whatsoever to think that anything he says is actually true. In the comments, I pressed him repeatedly on the matter. I even went so far as to grant him that we can toss out evidence-based justification entirely, and verification/falsification along with it. I just wanted him to propose some way of answering questions that anyone, ever, should be able to answer when making truth-claims about the nature of reality:
- How do you know what you claim to know?
- If you're wrong, how would you know?
- Why should anyone else believe you?
I think this is pretty simple stuff. Randal is making shit up. He's been caught red-handed, and he's embarrassed. He has literally no argument or evidence whatsoever to substantiate his beliefs, no reason whatsoever why he couldn't fabricate radically different conceptualizations of Heaven and believe them just as strongly. He's now in the unenviable position of trying to save face by putting on his best "I'm an academic!" mask and diverting the discussion into complaints about charity and rebukes of universally accepted philosophical principles, but the facade is utterly transparent and no one's buying it. Sad that someone so intelligent has devoted so much of himself to so little.
What's especially frustrating about all this is that in blowing a gasket over these tangential issues, Randal has ducked actually addressing the four topics which were the subject of my review. All the better for him, I suppose, that no one looks too closely.