In An Atheist Onslaught on Free Will? I shared a little of my opening salvoes and some of the responses to those salvoes in a discussion largely with the person who started the thread, Syamsu. At last count that discussion, at the Online Philosophy Club, runs to 732 posts of which more than 200 are by Syamsu (although I am almost as bad with more than 100 posts).
The vast majority of posts by other people have been efforts to get Syamsu to properly explain his position. Many of Syamsu’s responses have been a reiteration of his poorly explained position, for example post #638 in the thread:
The concept of free will does not work without a thing which 1 chooses, 2 this thing can be only identified by a way of choosing it is there or not, resulting in an opinion. That is the role which the spirit serves in the concept of free will. It chooses, and it can only be identified as a matter of opinion, not fact. That is how our emotions become to be regarded as a matter of opinion, and beauty is regarded as a matter of opinion.
Occasionally, Syamsu will make a “clarification” of his own:
It is clearly weak and revealing of error to argue that we move from unsatisfactory into preferred. Opinions must be made categorically distinct from facts, very obviously. You are simply conceiving of choosing as meaning to sort out the best result, which can only ever be a highly complicated way of choosing (or metaphorical choosing), which complex decision involves sorting as a secondary process. It is not relevant to how choosing works fundamentally, which is only about the aspects which are the same for every decision, including the simplest decision.
It occurred to me that Syamsu might not be a native English speaker – due to occasional wordconcatenation and his leaving out definite article from time to time. I asked him whether English is his native language to which he responded with:
… your argument is....that it isn't english. You don't even point out specifically whatvis invalid, ofcourse, you just pronounce this fascistic dismissal that it is not english. So there is nothing I can do to improve communication, because you don't point out any specific fault in english. Pure fascistic nonsense, trying to silence any opposition to your views on a farfetched technicality. You offer no argument.
Oh well, if he was not going to tell me, I was going to have to work it out myself.
What a little odyssey that set me on! Little did I then know that Syamsu is famous, or at least he was famous in a previous incarnation. In fact, at that time, I knew next to nothing about the guy.
Syamsu, in one form or another, has been interacting with atheists on the net for almost 18 years at least, visiting alt.atheism in particular to voice his views (where some posts imply that he’s used a range of pseudonyms).
Researching the history of Syamsu was quite revealing and he presents as an object lesson in a number of ways.
The first object lesson is that everything on the net is recorded and, if they are lucky and resourceful, people can dig up some of that recorded internet history. For example, a relatively quick search revealed that Syamsu is an argumentative type who has been trying to spread his views on free will in a number of areas – including at least four wikis, with differing levels of success.
He’s been most successful at CreationWiki, the site that he references as authoritative in his original post (his having writing that entry is a fact I was not aware of when I wrote the first article introducing Syamsu). He was less successful at Conservapedia, Ameriwiki and RationalWiki (in descending order of success).
Ameriwiki was interesting because one of the moderators there had found that Syamsu has earlier written a document in Dutch about his free will theories. In the article An Atheist Onslaught on Free Will? I talked about a chap I referred to as Otto von Oddball who by an amazing coincidence was also Dutch. Are Syamsu and Otto von Oddball the same person?
When we look at Conservapedia, we find that Syamsu used to be called Nando Ronteltap, and that his current name is Muhammad Nur Syamsu. Amazing! Ronteltap is a Dutch name!
Once you have these two names, a whole feast of information becomes available. For instance, Nando Ronteltap has a FaceBook page where he nominates, as an inspirational person, Prophet Mohammed (s.a.v) – yep, that’s right, the Prophet has a FaceBook page. This is only fair, I suppose, since God has one.
You can also find out that Muhammad Nur Syamsu maintains a presence at Amazon, but strangely he gives, as his location, Malang in Indonesia. This is curious because a separate search on the words Muhammad and Syamsu brings up a chap called “Muhammad Noor Syamsu Vikitoria” who works rather close to Malang, but he’s apparently not the same guy as Nando Ronteltap (well, not according to the LinkedIn photo for the chap).
At this point I was suspecting that something fishy was going on. Was Nando impersonating some poor guy in Indonesia? Or is his photo on LinkedIn incorrect?
Sad to say I made my suspicions known and I basically accused Nando of being duplicitous. I was pretty sure he was, but I didn’t know exactly how and I knew that it was unlikely that he would tell me.
Some more digging would be necessary.
This further digging led to another object lesson, but although it’s an object lesson, the lesson one extracts from it is quite possibly subjective.
The thing is, while in recent history Nando/Syamsu has shown to be aggressive and more a little off his rocker, and he doesn’t play well with others, via the magic of the interwebs, we can see what Nando Ronteltap was like in April and May 1996. Compared to the person he is today, the Nando Ronteltap of 1996 was a paragon of clarity and reason. Sure, he was anti-atheist even back then and he seemed to already be an undisciplined and lazy thinker (for example he couldn’t be bothered checking whether he still agreed with something he wrote earlier), but he genuinely seemed to want to make himself clear and he was interacting with other people in an almost friendly way.
What happened to that person?
This is where subjectivity will creep in. People who are inimical to Islam in particular might want to blame his conversion to Islam.
Personally I don’t think that this is the case. For example, Nando was banned from alt.atheism (a banning as the Dutch dude Nando Ronteltap) before returning as the Muslim man Syamsu. He was using “Mohammad Nor Syamsu” as far back as December 2001 and in that post he seems quite together so whatever happened to him must have taken place in the past 12 years. Another reason that I don’t think that it is Islam that has destroyed Nando’s reason because while he’s vehemently anti-atheist in his tirades, he’s not particularly pro-religion of any sort, he certainly doesn’t present as a fundamentalist convert. Yes, he talks about a spiritual realm but he rarely mentions god (and doesn’t use the term “Allah”).
Other people will posit alternative answers to the question “what happened to Nando Ronteltap”:
· People who are anti-science will point at Syamsu’s scientific leanings.
· Rationalists will point out that those leanings are more like pseudoscientific leanings (also known as nonsense).
· Some atheists might suggest that Syamsu’s corroded capacity for reason explains why Syamsu is religious in the first place, while others might say he was just a little soft in the head in the beginning and that it was when he strayed into mysticism and formalised religion that the rot really set in.
· People who are inimical to nonbelief will confidently declare that this sort of outcome is what should be expected after close to two decades of arguing with atheists, that exposing one’s mind to such arguments would be sure to drive even the strongest theist towards total madness.
For myself, I think the culprit is more likely to be his bizarre theory about how “free will” and “subjectivity” work – possibly combined with the effect of drugs in earlier life or the natural onset of a mental illness.
And we now we arrive at the main point of the article. It would appear that I’ve been unfairly suspecting Syamsu of duplicity.
In May 2002, on a CreationVersusEvolution forum post, Syamsu said he has emigrated from Holland to Indonesia “some time ago”. Therefore it’s entirely possible that he does in fact live in Malang Indonesia under the name Mohammad Nur Syamsu, just as his Amazon account indicates. And it’s entirely possible that it is mere coincidence that living not so far away is another guy with a very similar name.
So here it is:
Syamsu, I was wrong to suspect you of duplicity and I unreservedly apologise for that. I’m also filled to the brim with factual certitude that you are not Otto von Oddball.