Thursday, February 21, 2008

Education and argumentation

In comments, Pastor Rob justifies an oversimplification as just good education:
Larry, a lot of people like simple stories to illustrate points. Good teachers teach (attempt to take complicated issues and put them on a lower shelf for everyone) they don't showcase all the big words they know in the hopes that someone will get lost in the mumbo jumbo -- it's called "Argument By Prestigious Jargon."
He has kind of a point: once the truth has been established, it's a legitimate technique to oversimplify it for the purpose of education; the complications and qualifications can be introduced later. But Rob directly conflates education with argumentation, the communication of established truth with the establishment of truth.

There are no shortcuts to establishing the truth. I'm apparently using words outside Rob's vocabulary and concepts outside the range of his education, but what can I do? You can't establish truth with sound bites and hand-waving. You have to dig in and explore the complexity of the issues. (And if Rob thinks science and philosophy are refractory, I wonder what he thinks of sophisticated theology. Oy vey! Talk about "Argument By Prestigious Jargon!")

In any event, this is not a "teaching" blog, it is a blog about me doing my best to figure out what's true, and communicate my thoughts to a few score readers. And it is most definitely not a platform for anyone — theologian, philosopher or politician — to promulgate or propagandize whatever authoritarian dogma they happen to adhere.

Rob, you do not like the theory (or theories) of evolution. We get that, five by five. As it happens, I'm not all that interested in the gory details of evolutionary biology. I'm not a professional scientist, and this is not a science blog. But I am, however, interested in argumentation in general, and philosophy — especially the philosophy of science — in particular.

So, Rob, if you have an argument — not an illustration, not a point of view, not an opinion — but an actual argument, I'm interested in hearing it. If you have an actual argument that employs actual facts, even if I disagree with your conclusions, I'll not only address it on its merits but also post it (with your permission) on the main page of the blog.

But if you just want to "teach" people about your ignorant and uninformed opinions or (to the extent that the categories can be distinguished) your theology, you have your own church and your own blog in which to do so.

15 comments:

  1. Fair enough. My last posted comment meets your criteria to a tee. I'm only posting here with this comment because I realize my last length comment was typed so hastily there are a few grammatical errors. Please excuse.

    If it becomes too painful to read b/c of said errors then buzz on over to,

    pastorrobsrants.blogspot.com where I have cleaned it up a bit.

    Thanks for the opportunity to debate. Believe it or not, that's all I am doing. Not lying, not condescending, just debating. Like you, I am not thrilled to high heaven (oops, I mean, 'thrilled to high nothingness" <-- come on, Larry, have a little fun, will ya?) with the details of evolutionary biology. As you might have guessed, I don't even believe the macro parts.

    But my last post offers some real questions I and a lot of other people have. Answer if you're interested.

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  2. Just FYI: Your last post was not published. If you'd like to discuss the reasons, you're free to email me directly.

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  3. I've run into this quite a few times, and it seems many theists hide behind the guise of "I'm entitled to my opinion/belief," and indeed they are. Everyone is. We're even entitled to stupidity. However, there is not one argument to support idiotic thinking, sexism, racism, other -isms, blatant disinformative coercion, or outright dishonest behavior as a result of one's unsubstantiated opinions/beliefs. Once a personal belief has been publicly presented, it is not immune from criticism, which, in part, is what I believe many theists expect.

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  4. fdqPink/Baal's Bum: I think your comment makes a good substantive point:

    I have sat here reading through the dialogue and have been highly amused by two intelligent well read and eloquent people.
    However pastor bob at risk from being just another one of the that I see that a lot with liberals and anti God people.people. You are bringing nothing new, nothing any christian founded atheist has not investigated, evaluated and found wanting.


    You follow with, however, some unsupported, pejorative statements that I don't feel that I can publish in good conscience.

    It's not that I necessarily disagree with your comments, but I think it would be hypocritical of me to publish your comments while censoring Rob's.

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  5. I can accept that. No problem !

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  6. What continues to mystify me is that Pastor Rob and people like him apparently think that thousands of scientists are lying or deluded about the fossil record, DNA, and the mountains of other scientific evidence for evolution. That people who spend their lives doing scientific research on evolution know LESS about this than he and the writers of the Bible.

    For most of my life I believed in God and was able to believe in evolution as well. I know millions of other theists have no problem with evolution.

    Why is one book more important than the evidence of the natural world for creationists?

    If you believe a god created everything, then the evidence of his works should take precedence over "divinely inspired" stories that were written down and copied many times over.

    To this former theist, it seems a greater blasphemy to disbelieve Creation than to question a book written by primitive people.

    I'd love to hear a direct answer for once as I've never gotten one in the past. Pastor?

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  7. Pastor Rob and people like him apparently think that thousands of scientists are lying or deluded about the fossil record, DNA, and the mountains of other scientific evidence for evolution.

    To be fair, you and I and people like us do actually believe that millions of theologians and clergy are lying or deluded (mostly deluded) about the God and the Bible (and the Koran, and the Book of Mormon, etc.), and that no small few of them really are complete idiots.

    The truth is the truth, no matter how many people are mistaken.

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  8. To this former theist, it seems a greater blasphemy to disbelieve Creation than to question a book written by primitive people.

    This seems to be a real crux of the matter, and one where my theory of social teleology really starts to pick up speed. A strain of thinking in Judaism is that Jews have a duty to better comprehend God's creation. For some, like that madman the Jewish Philosopher, this seems to be limited to the rigid interpretation of the Torah and Talmud and theology. But for others, this has led to an exploration of the deeper mysteries of science, reasoning, and so on. There are many branches of the Catholic Church that embrace this latter view, especially the Jesuits and, say what you will about the rest of him, Pope Benedict.

    Not all interpretations of religion are literal, and some are quite complex. The beauty of the Judaic tradition is that it seems to have been the first truly complex religion. I refer everyone to the works of Timothy Schutt, as he's way better at explaining this.

    That said, what becomes shocking is the emotional attachment that people like Pastor Rob evince. Not that atheists or scientists or anyone else is immune to it. But it is precisely the deeply personal nature of Larry and Rob's interaction that demonstrates that religion is at heart an ideology, and ideology as a sociological phenomenon.

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  9. BB: true each side thinks the other delusional. The difference is that scientists have empirical evidence they can point to.

    Clergypeople have a book, which makes statements about life that do not correlate to the physical universe.

    Moreover, the debate over the science (i.e. facts) currently applies only to the topic of evolution. Although things like germ theory, neurology, heliocentrism and so forth were debated in the past, the facts have always won over the book.

    Shouldn't that be a teensy clue?

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  10. The difference is that scientists have empirical evidence they can point to.

    But of course. However the bare fact that one asserts that thousands or millions of people are deluded is not itself an argument, or not much of an argument.

    [T]he facts have always won over the book.

    Shouldn't that be a teensy clue?


    I definitely think so.

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  11. I have twice quoted Matthew 7:3 to Pastor Rob in response to this post at his blog. He seems disinclined to publish scripture that pertains to -- yet admonishes -- what he writes.

    One can only conclude, since he allowed a comment of mine made after those on another post, that he is blinded by the plank in his own eye while obsessing over the mote he finds in Larry's.

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  12. WOW, what a battle of the minds that has taken place this past week. I have refrained from commenting because, honestly, it would be like a JV player joining the defensive line of the Panthers. Well bad example, the Panthers need help, but you get the point.

    Very interesting posts have been left both on Rob's Rants and on The Barefoot Bum’s blog. This intellectual tennis match has made me become a “free thinker”. Hey wait, I was one before. Anyway, point in here somewhere; I started looking around “the net”, which I am very skilled at, and I found the fab four of atheism, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. And guess what? They filmed a 2 hour round table discussion on their atheistic, theistic, and secular views as well as their experiences in interacting with each of those groups. Now I know I cannot watch this and expect totally understand all the intracies of why atheists believe what they believe but I can gain more insight into the mind of an atheist. Very interesting stuff.

    To me one question loomed high above all others, what if we are wrong. Now “we” can apply to any of the three basic groups, atheistic, theistic, and secular, but I want to focus on “my” group, the theistic. I personally have no problems asking the question “what if I am wrong”. From what I gathered one of the “rubs” that the fab four had was the vehemently persistent opposition from theists to question their faith. Admittedly, that probably accounts for more than half of those professing to be Christian. What I am suggesting is that, much like the rise of free thinking atheists seen in society, there is also a growing movement of free thinking Christians and non-Christians. There are groups out there willing to ask some of the same questions that atheists ask. I propose that the people that are getting the most attention are the “squeaky wheel” funnies on either end of the spectrum of personal beliefs. I myself have encountered "them" from all three aforementioned groups.

    Bottom line, I am willing to have open, non-defensive discussion on a wide range of philosophical and social topics. I also hope that we move towards having a society where the sensitivity in the discussion of these topics diminishes. The question still remains, what if you’re wrong. But what if I am right?

    post with links on -http://famulusdeus.blogspot.com

    Can't we all just get along? ; )

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  13. I started looking around “the net”, which I am very skilled at, and I found the fab four of atheism, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. And guess what? They filmed a 2 hour round table discussion on their atheistic, theistic, and secular views as well as their experiences in interacting with each of those groups. Now I know I cannot watch this and expect totally understand all the intracies of why atheists believe what they believe but I can gain more insight into the mind of an atheist. Very interesting stuff.

    Good for you! You should keep searching for the truth so long as you're alive. Remember, though, that atheists don't consider any of the "fab four" (a.k.a. the "Four Horsement") to be prophets or authorities. There are as many views on atheism as there are atheists. (Perhaps more, since many of us are philosophers. There are no one-armed philosophers: you can't be a philosopher if you can't say, "On the other hand...")

    To me one question loomed high above all others, what if we are wrong.

    That's always an interesting topic. In one sense, though, it leads to nonsense such as Pascal's Wager (a.k.a the Worst. Apologetic. Ever.)

    In a sense, we shouldn't worry about "what if we're wrong" except at the highest level of doing the best we can to make sure we're not wrong. It really doesn't make any difference: For all we know, even if there were a God, it might punish credulity and faith as savagely and eternally as Christian propagandists assert it punishes skepticism and disbelief. For all we know Allah will punish you just as much for your Christianity as he will punish me for my atheism.

    Can't we all just get along? ; )

    I'm all for getting along. If a substantial fraction of Christians didn't insist on putting their religious beliefs into the law and the taxpayer-supported school system. I might be inclined to turn my attention to other matters.

    Ever see Mars Attacks? ;-)

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  14. "What if I'm wrong?" is precisely the reason I now call myself an atheist instead of the agnostic I thought I was four years ago. And it's why, in recent months, I've come to the conclusion that there is a good deal of defensibility to deism. In the end, I really don't think the "god question" has a perceivable answer within this corporeal world.

    I could be wrong. Our "intrinsic polyphasic electrical fields" (thank you, Warren Ellis) could live on in some energy-based dimension. This meatsack might just be part of my journey. Or maybe my consciousness dissolves once the biochemicals are removed from the equation and cease interacting with electricity.

    I don't know. No one can. It's not a question us meatsacks can have answered while we're meatsacks. It will only be "answered" when it's immaterial to my meatsack-self.

    Since I can't know, I have to make a choice. I find no compelling evidence within my own experience for deism. I find no attraction or compelling evidence for the various forms of theism (which I believe the evidence points to being sociocultural structures of deism). So, I am an atheist. Lacking a sociocultural structure to superimpose over my deism as the basis for my morality, politics, and tribalism, I have to think that much harder about such questions.

    There could be a metaphysical world. Hell, there could be a god. It could be the Abrahamic God in all his fire and brimstone and love and puppies. But it doesn't make a difference to the here and now.

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  15. For all we know Allah will punish you just as much for your Christianity as he will punish me for my atheism.

    "Satan, what am I doing here? I was a practicing Jew!"

    "Yeah, I was a faithful Muslim!"

    "I was the Pope!"

    "I'm sorry, the correct answer was Mormon."

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