Friday, May 7, 2010

Debating God

Some thoughts about my recent debate over the historical evidence for the resurrection.  First, thanks again to all those people who came, thought about the topic, offered comments and suggestions, and to Bridgeway Christian Church for having the maturity and courage to host it. 

This was the first debate I have done, and my general feeling now is that I’d be willing to do more.  But there’s something peculiar about debates and the whole debate culture over God and Christianity that does not sit well with me.  For many people, both debators and audiences, the point of a debate in their minds appears to be to win, where winning means something like giving the most rhetorically effective, and emotionally powerful  set of points and rebuttals in defense of your view.  Being rhetorically effective involves your demeanor, being nimble with your responses, being pithy or laconic, and having the appropirate sort of passion, among other things.  Quick, incisive responses can score big points in the minds of audiences, and can easily sway their estimation of who won.  These are only part of what’s effective in a debate, and not everyone is influenced by these factors equally.  But histrionics often eclipse clear reason, for the audience and the debators.  And histrionics figure largely in what we take away from the debate. 

A couple of obvious points suggest themselves about these aspects of debates.  First, as a trained philosopher I’m much more interested in what sort of overall view makes the most sense, what arguments support it, and what the problems with it are.  All of that can rarely be fairly captured in the rather contrived format of a debate.  At best, a debate is going to give you a somewhat skewed snapshot of the complete philosophical argument behind the position being presented.  And the philosophical merits of the position may well be obscured by the artifice of the debate structure.  Ultimately the most reasonable position can come across very poorly in a debate, and a completely flawed and bankrupt position can appear to be brilliant.   

This will sound naively idealistic of me, but our first goal in these efforts ought to be to figure out what’s true and what conclusions the best available evidence supports, period.  It’s empowering and seductive to be swept into the rhetorical aspects of debates, but that takes us off track.  On some views, the Sophists were regarded by the Greeks as people possessing remarkable debating and argumentative skill, but their sole purpose was to confound, perplex, and best their opponents, no matter what the content.  They were relativists about the truth and knowledge, and took great pleasure in tying all opponents in knots with their debating skill.  Socrates was executed over suspicions about his alleged sophistry.  The worst and ugliest modern version would be the hired gun lawyer with no principles who puts her legal mastery and rhetorical skill to work for any client willing to pay without regard to any larger moral principles about justice. 

After having read much of his work, and watched many of his debates and videos, I’m of two minds about William Lane Craig, who is a dominate figure in the Christian debating circuit.  On the one hand, Craig is a decent philosopher who generates some arguments of interest in the growing state of the discipline.  But on the other hand, Craig has indicated on many occasions that there are no circumstances, even hypothetically, under which he would be prepared to change his mind about certain basic propositions of Christian theology.  The “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit” has given him a special knowledge, he maintains, that is incorrigible and therefore beyond any possibility of error.  He also has considerable rhetorical and debating abilities that have been honed with hundreds debates.  He is a master of manipulating or reframing the discussion and scoring points that are rhetorically effective, but on reflection seem to have little real philosophical merit.  On this darker side of Craig’s work, it would appear that this agenda of defending his Christian convictions at all costs, and by whatever rhetorical or argumentative means necessary has eclipsed his concerns about truth and reason.  He will insist that the Holy Spirit has given him unassailable access to the truth, but until I understand how a special feeling inside your head can do this all by itself, I’m deeply suspicious. See this video for his take on it:  Craig on Faith

Given Craig’s centrality in the recent Christian debate culture, it was inevitable that people would suggest his work to me, recomment I read his articles, watch his debates, and it was even suggested that I should debate him.  And in many of my recent blog posts, his arguments have been brought up.  My short answer is this:  it’s a mistake for serious philosophical atheists to devote too much time and energy to dealing with Craig because he’s a person in this field who seems to be shouting the loudest and the most.  Craig’s arguments have been dealt with at length and with devastating consequences by many people, including myself.  Craig is rarely deterred by any of these critiques, and he is not prone to acknowledge any objection or weakness no matter how clearly it has been illustrated.  But we shouldn’t mistake his pitbull persistence and rhetorical skill in defending Christianity for something other than what it is.  The unassailability of Christianity in his mind bestows a weird kind of pointlessness to his debates.  As he and his followers see it, debates can only serve to corroborate what they already know is true—Jesus is lord.  If Craig “wins,” which he often does given his skill, then that just vindicates Christian belief once again, if he doesn’t (and few of his supporters would acknowledge that this ever happens), it doesn’t matter because he would never change his mind, and the private, magical, Holy Spirit knowledge he has in his mind makes any consideration of arguments or the evidence irrelevant.  At this point, given what he’s said about the indefeasibilty of Christian belief, I’m not inclined to take anything that Craig or his followers say seriously until I’m convinced that they are playing the same game with the same rules of rationality that the rest of us are.  An essential principle of rationality, as I see it, is that all beliefs are defeasible, and subject to the tribunal of reason.  If I start claiming to have a special magical voice in my mind that tells me there is no God, and that this knowledge is invulnerable to any disproof or counter evidence, you would be right to dismiss me as a lunatic.  You have my permission to commit me to a mental hospital if that happens.   

The question about just what a debate is supposed to do is vitally important too.  In religious matters, it’s na├»ve to think that many people who watch and think about a debate will have their minds changed by what transpires in the discussion.  If the topic of the debate was about a matter that an audience member had not already formed opinions about, and one that is not as emotional, then it could happen that someone could listen closely and then form a considered conclusion on the basis of the debate that they did not have before. But we all know that this is exceedingly rare in religious matters.  People come to the debate deeply entrenched in a set of views about the matter, and they are prone read the success or failure of the debators by the extent to which their positions and arguments corroborate what the listener already thought was true.  Democrats invariably figure that the Democratic candidate won the debate, Republicans think the Republican candidate won, with only a tiny minority shifting their views on the basis of what they heard.  My suspicion is that that minority is even smaller in religious debates and that any shifting is even smaller in magnitude.  I’ve mentioned this study before that shows how confrontation with substantial evidence that contradicts their actually results in believers being more entrenched  in their views. 

One of the ways that the bias emerges in these situations is that the theist who listens, for instance, applies a harsher, more critical, and more careful set of standards to the atheistic arguments, and then he relaxes those same standards with regard to the arguments for theism.  And many atheists appear to be just as guilty of this double standard problem.  In fact, this is just a human problem.  We bring a belief structure to the evidence and we are prone to evaluate that evidence in ways that will make it consistent with the belief structure.  Instead of carefully considering the evidence first and then forming a conclusion, the conclusion leads, and we distort the evidence in order to corroborate it.  A related phenomena is our proclivity to identify bias in others, while being reluctant to attribute it to ourselves.  See Pronin, Gilovich, and others in this list of sources.  
At the same time the non-believers are shaking their heads and complaining to each other, “How can the believers possibly believe that nonsense?,” the believers are commiserating with each other about how wrong headed the nonbelievers’ approach is. 

In fact, after the debate, I drifted across several conversations between clustered believers and non-believers who were expressing just these sentiments.  I resisted the temptation to get drawn into several “Can you believe how stupid they are?” discussions that non-believers were having and deliberately tried to engage  many of the believers to get their thoughts about the arguments.  The bias attribution bias makes it difficult and sometimes unhelpful when I’m presenting arguments for non-belief to non-believers.  They love the argument no matter what it is because of the conclusion, so often they can’t help me figure out what’s wrong with it nearly as well as some believers can.  It’s for this same reason that my philosophy department where there are atheists, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, and Fidiests (and a lot of collegeality) is an incredibly stimulating environment.  A department full of atheists would quickly lead to stagnation and intellectual breeding.  The pitfalls of intellectual inbreeding are exactly why believers and non-believers should be seeking out these exchanges of ideas like we had in the debate.  I’d love to do it again ten times next year in the biggest churches Russell and I can find. 

That said, I do think that debates, discussions, and arguments can change minds.  But the process can be a slow one.  At any given time in a person’s intellectual history, their belief structure has a great deal of inertia.  If we are talking about abstract, philosophical or religious convictions, the network of things you believe resists sudden changes.    Neurobiologically, this torpor can be traced to developed activation thresholds between neurons.  Over time, neurons that fire together, wire together.  Neurochemical pathways inside neurons and between them get well worn, and metabolically entrenched.  But most importantly, neurons, even when we get old, are plastic and can change, grow new connections, form new networks.  That requires varied input and varied stimulus.  And it requires time.  So here’s my hope about what the essays on my blog, the debate, my lectures, and all the work I’ve done on this topic.  My hope is to be part of a shift in thinking that leads to greater intellectual liberation in some members of my audience.  My hope is that something I’ve said will stick, some idea or image or analogy will be remembered, in the mind of someone who is not completely lost to a consciousness devouring ideology, and it will be part of a process that will lead them greater intellectual freedom.  My goal, ironically, isn’t even to create a bunch of atheists.  Unreflective, ideologue atheists who have been enslaved by the idea that religion and belief in God  are evil (and I’ve met a lot of these) are just as lost and objectionable as the Christian who has been too swept up in the agenda to reason straight.  

35 comments:

Ken Pulliam said...

Matt,

Excellent points. One problem as you point out with debates is it is seen as a contest (and we humans love competition) and discussed in terms of who won and who lost. The greater concern as you mention should be not "who won" but "whose right" or even better "what's right".

I like the format of the Greer-Heard Forum at New Orleans Seminary where they will have two opposing scholars sit on the platform and just politely ask each other questions and dialogue about the issue. No attempt to try to "prove" someone or something is right or wrong. Then the next day they have a couple of additional scholars give a short speech on how they heard the dialogue.

The whole thing seems to be more congenial and doesn't create the "us" vs. "them" mentality.

yashwata said...

Our first goal in these efforts ought to be to figure out what’s true and what conclusions the best available evidence supports, period.

Absolutely.

William Lane Craig] will insist that the Holy Spirit has given him unassailable access to the truth, but until I understand how a special feeling inside your head can do this all by itself, I’m deeply suspicious. … I’m not inclined to take anything that Craig or his followers say seriously until I’m convinced that they are playing the same game with the same rules of rationality that the rest of us are.

Exactly.

One of the ways that the bias emerges in these situations is that the theist who listens, for instance, applies a harsher, more critical, and more careful set of standards to the atheistic arguments, and then he relaxes those same standards with regard to the arguments for theism. And atheists appear to be just as guilty of this double standard problem.

Just as guilty? That's a pretty broad generalization, even though you hedged it by saying "appear to be". But the symmetry you are implying does not exist. Remember that the theist is, by definition, committed to a single, specific belief. That's what the word means. This is not true of the atheist, who rejects all such beliefs. In fact the atheist rejects, not so much the theists' beliefs but their methodology, or rather their lack of one. The atheist has a methodology. It's called rational thought. The theist has only "belief". This is not a double standard, it is a fact, and it is foundational to the whole situation.

At the same time the non-believers are shaking their heads and complaining to each other, “How can the believers possibly believe that nonsense?,” the believers are commiserating with each other about how wrong headed the nonbelievers’ approach is.

Again, your description makes the argument sound more symmetrical than it really is. The non-believer's "How can they believe?" means What reasons do they have?; the believer's "How can they not?" means How can they be so mean? These are different questions: one is about evidence; the other, about emotion.

It may not be irrelevant to mention that the question "How can they believe?" has an answer: actually, they don't.

Unreflective, ideologue atheists who have been enslaved by the idea that religion and belief in God are evil (and I’ve met a lot of these) are just as lost and objectionable as the Christian who has been too swept up in the agenda to reason straight.

Again the false symmetry. A Christian has to be "swept up in the agenda". Blind faith is constitutive of Christianity, though not of atheism. Some atheists may be ideologues, but all Christians are – and that's not because my brush is so broad but because Christianity is (and is intended to be) an ideology from start to finish.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for reading closely guys. Yashwata, your first argument about the meaning of the term "theist" misses my point. What you find across the board with theists, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, Global Warming Deniers, and everyone else is a disposition to ramp up the critical analysis for any view for a contrary conclusion, and then let all sorts of non sequiturs, fallacies, and mistakes slide by in arguments that have conclusions they favor. Your a priori analysis of what the terms mean is irrelevant to the empirical fact of a human cognitive tendency.

Your point that some atheists may be ideologues but all Christians are may be right, but it's irrelevant to my point again. My claim wasn't about the total numbers being equal. My claim was that being uncritically committed to the conclusion that religion is evil is just as wrongheaded as the brainwashed Christian. With many of the atheists I'm talking to these days, their commitment to the view is as dogmatic, unreflective, and overgeneralized as the worst believers that they complain about. The irony of it is that many atheists are so proud to proclaim their mastery of reason while committing the same logical errors as the believers. The order of priorities has to be clear, objective reasoning first, atheism second, because as soon as atheism becomes the first priority, ideology eclipses everything else.

MM

Matthew said...

"You have my permission to commit me to a mental hospital if that happens."

Noted.

I think one thing you can do in the future to help mitigate the issues you brought up is, in your opening remarks, bring up what you stated in the first two paragraphs. Say it aloud, and let the audience hear it. It seems like it would do a quite a bit to bring them back towards rationality when considering each speaker.

As far as the debating WLC, I agree with you. It's pointless to debate someone who is not playing on the same field.

NAL said...

... so they can’t help me figure out what’s wrong with it nearly as well as the non-believers can. SB:

... so they can’t help me figure out what’s wrong with it nearly as well as the believers can.

Matt McCormick said...

Right, NAL. Thanks. Fixed.

Paul said...

What I've always wanted to do was to get a theist and an atheist (perhaps more than one of each?) to co-produce a document (perhaps through Google documents) in which they would present their arguments and counter-arguments in a logical fashion. That seems to me the only way in which one could get to the bottom of the logic of the disagreement, as opposed to a debate as well as arguments conducted through blog comments.

A little of the flavor of what I imagine is at
http://honestargument.com/

Toby said...

MM,

I guess the reason why I would like to see you debate WLC is because you are well-versed in philosophy. I, unfortunately, have never heard anyone debate Craig who is able to sound as knowledgable Craig on "philisophical jargon." He loves to bring up various types of fallacies, famous philosophers or figures, and frequently uses arguments that claim to have the authority of great thinkers, but usually rely on the audience's ignorance and inability to fully test his assertions. It would be nice to hear someone who is just as familiar with the various "tenets of logic" respond to his fancy, but nonsensical rhetoric.

Although your first debate was somewhat "unrefined" as compared to your potential, once you have the timing issues and are able to consolodate ideas a little better, you are going to have one heck of a presentation!

So, yes you are right that it would never change Craig's mind, nor perhaps any of his followers, but these debates do generate exposure to doubt.

Okay, so I'm really not married to the idea of you having to debate Craig. I just believe his arguments lack integrity and I would like to see someone soundly demonstrate the fragility of his logic in a debate.

Keep up the good work!
Toby

yashwata said...

The idea of debating a man whose arguments lack integrity reminds me of a story my ex-wife told me. She said, "I used to play a game with my older brother. It was called Infinity. You take turns saying numbers, each time trying to name a higher number than your opponent did. The first person to say 'infinity' is the winner. For some reason, I always lost."

yashwata said...

You said, "Your … argument about the meaning of the term "theist" misses my point. What you find across the board with theists, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, Global Warming Deniers, and everyone else is a disposition to ramp up the critical analysis for any view for a contrary conclusion, and then let all sorts of non sequiturs, fallacies, and mistakes slide by … that have conclusions they favor. Your a priori analysis of what the terms mean is irrelevant to the empirical fact of a human cognitive tendency."

OK, but in that case your point is a very broad one about human behavior. It's not about atheism any more than it is about, say, livestock husbandry. In any discussion, on any topic, some people will sometimes appeal to "arguments" that are not arguments. That can be obnoxious. On this I agree with you one hundred percent.

Nick said...

Hi Dr.McCormick. I'm Nicholas-- I came to your office last week, and I said I would like to audit your Philosophy 131 course. You told me about your blog, and it's really thought provoking.

I find it really interesting, or rather disconcerting, that there appears to be both a lack of demonstrability and falsifiability of god or supernatural claims. It would appear that lacking the two would make everybody skeptical of those claims. However, ironically, it makes peoples' faith stronger. When it comes to Santa Claus and Unicorns, people demonstrate skepticism. When it comes to God or the supernatural, analogous unfalsifiable claims, they demonstrate much greater faith.

I try to avoid having double standards, and I encourage respectful civil discussions. I had a discussion with one of my religious relatives. He told me, "If you don't believe in a god or the supernatural, you won't see evidence of god or the supernatural. If you believe it, you will. God is real."

Surprisingly, many people I know couple the arguments from ignorance fallacy and begging the question fallacy, and call it a successful day of discussion.

Of course, people define god in different ways, and have different standards of evidence, but I think that if the evidence of a personal god rivals to that which is provided for unicorns and leprechauns-- I don't find it impressive.

But if you define god in another way, perhaps say god is merely love and love is merely god, then that's a different story. That would sound deep. Not to skew too far off topic, but I'd dare say I am an atheist with regards to love.
But I question the relevance of calling love another name besides love-- and that goes with calling all sorts of natural phenomena a god.

That's just my little take on why I am still a skeptic with regards to a personal god.

J said...

I find it funny you said you wouldn't want to debate Craig but when you debated, you were debating Craig. He was using his same presentation that Craig used in '06 when he did a debate against an historian about the resurrection.

Moving on though, I want to know how you would have done your presentation differently and what you would have brought up that would have made more of an impact.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for the comment, I guess, J. Using Craig's argument, which is a pretty poor one, was Russell DiSilvestro's choice, not mine. But I find Russell to be much more intellectually honest and reasonable than Craig. Russell's interested in figuring what's philosophicallly justified; Craig's sole purpose is defending an ideology.

What would I do differently? The debate context of 20 minutes each, and then 10 and 5 is contrived. This is a complicated topic and the Amplified Doubts model I'm presenting takes some more time to explain so that people can see the accumulated effect of all the historical problems. A panel style discussion where both of us get 45 minutes or an hour would be better, with discussion after.

MM

benjamin said...

Check out the classic debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston (Jesuit, and author of the approximately dozen volume History of Philosophy):
http://www.evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/copleston.htm

Note the polite dialogue format, in which they give each other approximately equal talking time. This is what debates would be like between intellectual honest and charitable individuals.

Craig excels in a particular format. His debate with Shelly Kagan was pretty instructive. Kagan wasn't very successful with the opening speech, where Craig was efficient and effective. However, the rest of the debate was Q and A. Kagan was able to immediately point out problems in Craig's arguments and respond to Craig's objections to his, and the WLC rhetoric boat never picked up any steam.

DM said...
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Brenda said...

"Unreflective, ideologue atheists who have been enslaved by the idea that religion and belief in God are evil [...] are just as lost and objectionable as the Christian who has been too swept up in the agenda to reason straight."

Unreflective, ideologue atheists are exactly why I no longer consider myself an atheist. I'm agnostic and wish to have nothing whatsoever to do with the flaming assholes that call themselves atheists.

"If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use is the rule?"

I want a third pill.

Brenda said...

yashwata said...
"Some atheists may be ideologues, but all Christians are"

This is clearly false. I know of many Christians who are not ideologues therefore your claim that all Christians must be ideologues is refuted.

Moreover this points to your own atheist ideology and dogmatism. You have constructed a rigid tautology for your definition of Christianity (and presumably theism as well) thusly:

All Christians are ideologues.
X is a Christian.
Therefore X is an ideologue.

But how do you know the truth of your first premise? Simple:

"that's not because my brush is so broad but because Christianity is (and is intended to be) an ideology from start to finish."

In other words all Christians are ideologues because all Christians are ideologues. This is a tautology and therefore false.

--

The truth of the matter is that labeling all of the members of any group in such a manner is itself a mark of an ideologue. You are being just as dogmatic and fundamentalist as any evangelical when you smear an entire mass of people as evil because you have defined them as evil.

That is how ideology functions today. God is unconscious. That is, in order for God (ideology) to function properly in the ego of the believer he (God) must be unconscious (held unconsciously). The believer must be unaware of what it is he is truly doing.

Atheists are today's true believers.

mikespeir said...

How about we atheists who don't make such claims, Brenda? How about the claim that "Atheists are today's true believers" itself?

yashwata said...

To refer to atheism as a dogma is a hysterical grasping at straws. Dogma is exactly what atheism is not. Or, as someone else put it, "If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby."

Brenda said...

yashwata said...
"To refer to atheism as a dogma is a hysterical grasping at straws. Dogma is exactly what atheism is not."

I didn't refer to "atheism" I referred to "your own atheist ideology and dogmatism". Specifically your claim that all Christians are ideologues.

"Or, as someone else put it, "If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.""

But you are not not collecting stamps. When you make specific positive claims then you are collecting stamps. Further, you cannot define yourself out of existence. You cannot say that "all those people over there are dogmatic ideologues, I alone am pure". That is called... wait for it... ideology.

How do we know when someone is dogmatic or an ideologue? We know through their behavior. They behave in ways that are characteristic of those whom we are comparing them to. One excellent measure is when someone makes sweeping generalizations of an entire class of people based on stereotypes. When someone does that we know what they are.

They are a bigot. "A prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own."

That's a good description of many atheists online along with Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris to boot.

You are a bigot yashwata.

--

mikespeir said...

"How about we atheists who don't make such claims, Brenda? How about the claim that "Atheists are today's true believers" itself?"

Well I guess that if you do not do the things that I find abhorrent about the atheist/theist climate today then I wasn't speaking to you.

After all I am told time and again that atheism doesn't even exist. That it is really just a "lack of belief" and you just can't say anything at all about something that has a negative definition. That would be like me saying that I don't like non-apples. The sentence is meaningless.

Of course the question arises then what are you if you don't really exist? How is it possible for you to be offended if I attack atheism since as you have defined it atheism cannot be a "thing" that has any positive existence. What is there to take offense at?

The truth is that people just don't work the way that many atheists would like to pretend that they do. People can form a social identity around a negative and in spite of the claim that atheism doesn't exist it does exist in the minds of those who call themselves atheists.

Atheism is a collective intentionality and a very real social group with a really existing ontology. But I do understand. It sure is mighty sweet to pretend that there is no such thing as atheism. That way you get to take pot shots at your opponents and then cry foul when they try to criticize you in return. It may be intellectually dishonest but it does give you an rhetorical advantage. That's why you do it.

Because for you all that matters is winning.

mikespeir said...

"Well I guess that if you do not do the things that I find abhorrent about the atheist/theist climate today then I wasn't speaking to you."

But your paintbrush seems awfully broad to be able to get away with that kind of defense, doesn't it?

"Atheism is a collective intentionality and a very real social group with a really existing ontology."

Would you believe that I don't even know another atheist personally? (Not that I'm aware of, anyway.) I enjoy the online give and take with others, so, sure, there's a kind of society about it. But, really, the camaraderie of atheists isn't important enough to me to seek out like minded persons in real life. (There probably aren't that many in this little North Texas hick town, anyway.)

"Because for you all that matters is winning."

Are you determined to make a caricature of yourself? Talk about dogmatism! Or, maybe I've been sucked in. That's it, isn't it? :-) You're just here to mess with our wee little atheist brains!

yashwata said...

Well played! I admit: it does hurt to be called a bigot. Even when it's the pot calling the kettle black, it hurts.

Maybe you'll understand if I put it this way:

Hey, Brenda. May you burn in Hell.

yashwata said...

Wait, it's not the pot calling the kettle black. It's the plastic flange around the mouth of the garbage disposal... calling the espresso machine... black.

Brenda said...

mikespeir said...
" But your paintbrush seems awfully broad to be able to get away with that kind of defense, doesn't it?"

I am very careful to use specific terms like "New Atheist", "some", "many" and so on. I am labeling a behavior that I find repulsive and in my experience is found in the majority of online discussions with the so-called New Atheists.

"Would you believe that I don't even know another atheist personally?"

You have my sympathies with regard to Texas. I think the particular brand of fundamentalism in the South is very scary. Which is why I am puzzled at the extreme bigotry I see in most New Atheists. One would think it would be in your interest to form political alliances with the more liberal factions of modern society yet you seem intent on creating as many enemies as you can.

That seems like a very bad strategy to me.

"Are you determined to make a caricature of yourself? Talk about dogmatism!"

It has been my experience that all that seems to really matter to most atheists today is how to defeat one's opponents in rhetorical battle. Getting things right, discovering new truths, challenging one's preconceptions etc. do not matter or are even seen as signs of weakness. Everything simply *has* to be a fucking battle to be king of the hill.

With this blog there seems to me to be a small hope that that the usual dick-sizing games of the Internet Tough Guys are not in play. That philosophy is actually respected. That one's rhetorical opponent's positions are not systematically misrepresented and distorted. One can dream.

mikespeir said...

Now, Brenda, if you had presented yourself that way from the beginning, I think I could at least have granted that you had a thoughtful opinion. An opinion, BTW, that I in some measure share with you.

DM said...
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pensiveblake said...

Matt McCormick: "by whatever rhetorical or argumentative means necessary has eclipsed his [William Craig's] concerns about truth and reason."
This just seems irresponsibly uncharitable to me. Let's be careful with what we say about others. :)

Matt McCormick: "[Craig] is a master of manipulating or reframing the discussion and scoring points that are rhetorically effective, but on reflection seem to have little real philosophical merit." [...]

Two things:
1. As it happens, I think most who have debate experience would agree that it's rather Craig's time management that makes him a good debater (which the inexperienced are almost always bad at), not "manipulating/reframing the discussion" or "rhetoric".
2. If Craig outmatches the competition because his *arguments* are genuinely better, we'd *expect* the competition (like yourself) to say he only won because of rhetoric, wouldn't we? All I mean to say here is that if you're going to convince anyone, rather than just flippantly stating he's all rhetoric, you'll probably need justify the claim.

yashwata said...

"if you're going to convince anyone, rather than just flippantly stating he's all rhetoric, you'll probably need justify the claim."

Matt's participation in the debate, and his posting of this blog entry, and his participation in the comments, is all about justifying the claim. To write that Matt's being flippant instead of justifying his claims is misleading. The movie's over, and you walk into the theater and say you found the plot implausible. Next time, watch the movie first.

yashwata said...

Looking at this thread again, what really astonishes me is Brenda's "many Christians … are not ideologues".

That Christianity is an ideology is not an argument that can be refuted, it is definitional. It is a simple fact about what the words mean. So Brenda's "refutation" is actually an attempt to confuse us about what the words mean. I am coming to believe that this move is central to religious advocacy.

pensiveblake said...

hehe... yashwata, perhaps you've mistaken Matt McCormicks's blog for another, so we watched different "movies" :) As it happens, I did a word search for "Craig" on all Matt's posts. Here's all that has ever come up in this blog's entries:

(1.) In "Knowing More than Science" and "My Private, Unassailable Knowledge of God", "God is not Beyond Logic", Matt goes after Craig's appeal to personal experience (which Craig *does not* use as an argument in debate; he's very clear about this).

(2.) In "God and the Big Bang", Matt goes after Craig's Kalam.

(3.) In "Is Heaven Guilt Money", Matt comments on Craig's handling of the problem of evil.

Now tell me yashwata, in what world does this justify McCormick's claim that "[Craig] is a master of manipulating or reframing the discussion and scoring points that are rhetorically effective, but on reflection seem to have little real philosophical merit."?(1) is irrelevant and neither (2) nor (3) even attempt to justify anything like that. I think my previous statement stands.

Matt McCormick said...

Well, thanks for all the interest in everything I've said here about the topic. Of course, the question of whether I have said enough in the blog to justify some claim to your satisfaction and whether I am actually justified are different. I've been reading and thinking about Craig's arguments, debates, articles, videos, and presentations for decades. So I figure I can make a claim about his tactics and his skills. If you don't think I'm entitled, I don't really care. If you don't think I've said enough to convince you, I can live with that too. I don't convince many people who've been caught by the religious mind virus of much.

MM

pensiveblake said...

Needless to say, my comment didn't imply that you personally unjustified; it says that the claim is publicly unjustified. If you think justification would be useless to those who have the "religious mind virus" then of course the recommendation would be for the benefit of those who don't have such a thing (like myself *wink).

Here's the statement in question again: "If Craig outmatches the competition because his *arguments* are genuinely better, we'd *expect* the competition (like yourself) to say he only won because of rhetoric, wouldn't we? All I mean to say here is that if you're going to convince anyone, rather than just flippantly stating he's all rhetoric, you'll probably need justify the claim."

It still seems like a fair comment. Those who lack the "religious mind virus" whom you'd want to justify the claim to would include many (a) agnostics, (b) atheists, (c) theists [including (d) Christians who would agree with you if given reasons.] Otherwise, people don't have any more reason to think you're right than to think you're a complaining atheist who says exactly what you need to say given debate losses.

yashwata said...

"You're a complaining XYZist who says exactly what you need to say" is a charge that can be leveled at any person, in any discussion, anywhere. It's not a fair comment, it's an irrelevant and misleading comment.