Monthly Archives: March 2011
In a debate about homosexual marriage, a friend of mine trumpeted: ‘Christians weren’t even interested in marriage until the 13th Century’. When I noted that there were references to marriage in Ephesians, my friend was unaware that Ephesians was a book of the New Testament.
I find it increasingly strange that people will ‘know’ all kinds of wacky, obscure ‘facts’ which support their position, but won’t know basic, entry-level facts about the subject first. My friend is lovely and I don’t think it’s a reflexion on her. We see it far too often in public debates.
Consider people who deny climate change and anthropogenic climate change. Holy crap, those people must be reading all of the journals published everywhere in order to find tiny ‘factoids’ which support their position. Don’t worry that 98% of climate scientists agree with anthropogenic climate change; we’ve found the one crank who disagrees. Mention very basic things about climate science and their jaws slack gape.
We are building an information landscape in which people never have to be confronted by anything which does not agree with their prejudices. We’ve even got people arguing that children shouldn’t be exposed to things which disagree with their parents’ biases. How did we get to this point?
This morning, I read more of George Orwell’s essays. In an unused preface to Animal Farm, Orwell complained that:
If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves. [Source: George Orwell, 'Proposed Preface to Animal Farm']
The newspapers, he noted, were ‘extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.’
Instead of silencing ‘alternative’ viewpoints, there is money to be made in drowning them out. It makes me cringe to think that I just referred to best available science as an ‘alternative’ viewpoint, but that’s what it’s become. Just as in Orwell’s day, the publishers are frightened of public opinion. Views which challenge readers will get overlooked if readers are able to shield themselves from challenging views. If readers shield themselves, then they can’t look at the pretty adverts publishers are trying to sell.
But surely there are places for public debates in the media. Doesn’t Andrew Bolt appear on Insiders every week or so to provide a contrasting view?
Not really. Dissent is okay so long as it’s arena-style combat, providing a spectacle which will attract advert-reading viewers. The point is not to challenge the reader: the point is to attract attention. The reader has their champion in the field ready to use whatever rhetoric device is necessary to shield the viewer from being challenged.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is a right-wing/left-wing thing. My Greens friends are generally more shielded from reality than my Nationals friends. For every ‘Climate Change is Crap’ chanter on the right, there’s a Green blowhard on the left chanting similarly asinine mantras. Post what you like to refute their arguments; they’re not going to listen (and try to justify why they’re not going to listen).
Infotainment killed news, but when did we all start thinking that it was okay to just cherry pick convenient ‘facts’?
Procrastination makes readers of us all.
There’s a bit of a lukewarm debate about the representation of women in the media over on The Drum. Kate Phelan has a post up today about the individual’s experience in the face of media-portrayed versions of ‘normal’. Part of the article seems to be a response to this one by Jennifer Wilson which — somehow — links feminists to conservatives, claims that feminists infantalise women, and requests conservatives provide details of how a woman can sexualise herself appropriately.
That post, in turn, was in response to everything Melinda Tankard Reist has ever said.
Now I — a straight, white, conservative male — will fix the debate.
I think Wilson unfairly presents Tankard Reist’s position. From what I’ve read of Reist, her problem seems to be the commodification of (female) sex. While the media message has been ‘liberation’, the commodification of women’s sexuality has homogenised sexuality for women. The purchaser of the commodity is overwhelmingly men, so the commodification isn’t about the liberation of women: it’s about men (and a very small group of opportunistic women) making women feel positive about being exploited.
One of her more interesting articles was about Sexpo. I’ll admit quite openly that I have never been, so I’m criticising third-hand. What is liberating about it? Who is benefited by reducing sex to its more vulgar aspects? Who is being oppressed if we banned it?
Wilson reads these criticisms as wanting to be proscriptive.
It seems there is little in popular cultural representations of female sexuality that escapes Melinda’s disapproval. Even, I see on her website the US underwear company Victoria’s Secret,and twenty something TV star Lea Michele appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine showing cleavage, offends her conservative values.
The latter incurs wrath because Michele is, in Melinda’s terms, “sexifying” herself, and in so doing setting a bad example to the teenagers who watch Glee in which she plays a considerably younger character.
Christian sexual conservatives seem to have embarked on a mission to pathologise the entire world, rather than realistically deal with inevitable and at times large pockets of dysfunction. Their solution? Censor and ban. [Source: Jennifer Wilson, 'Pornify This', ABC The Drum]
Silly MTR! She thinks that having an older woman play an underage girl shouldn’t be praised for presenting herself as a sexual object! Foolish MTR!
What I find strangest of all is that these are the sort of examples Wilson associates with healthy sexuality. The media is so swamped with this sort of imagery that the champions of ‘healthy’ female sexuality can’t think of any examples beyond sexual objectification.
It was made all the weirder when Wilson launched the ‘The Patriarchy doesn’t have any influence over me’ argument:
Even when we think we’re exercising agency we aren’t really, because our actions are predetermined by the overwhelming influence of the patriarchy. [Ibid.]
When you can’t cite any mainstream expression of sexuality which doesn’t consist of objectification, I’m putting bets on the patriarchy having an overwhelming influence. I’m not even in the ‘Boo! Evil patriarchy!’ camp either.
Wilson turns the crazy up to eleven when she tries to argue that sexual objectification isn’t a problem because there are other real problems in the world.
You may like these looks, or you may find them silly, but are they really part of an orchestrated patriarchal attack on women’s human rights? Think about the real attacks on women’s human rights round the globe, rarely mentioned by MTR, by the way, and only when they comply with her ideology as an anti choice feminist, and then answer that question. [Ibid.]
It’s such a wonderful argument. ’You think Australia’s carbon emissions are a problem? Think about the real environmental problems around the world!’ ’You think homelessness in Australia is a problem? Think about the real homelessness problems around the world!’ ’You think me stealing your lunch from the fridge is a problem? Think about the real lunch-stealing problems around the world! Some people don’t have lunch at all! Did you think about them? Your problems are as nothing compared to Real Problems! Go fix all the other problems first and then we might think about this problem.’
Phelan’s response to Wilson’s is to demonstrate the impact of the beauty/sex industry on individuals (while rather happily chiding her as an old woman).
At high school I was surrounded by girls wearing makeup, and by boys who referred to the few girls who wore trousers as dykes. Watching my friends apply foundation at recess then at lunch, and again before leaving school, I was baffled. They explained that they felt more confident wearing mascara and blush. Why do young girls have to cover their faces to feel empowered? This reveals their feeling of being deficient.
Some would argue that these girls were embracing and expressing their femininity. Why does femininity take the form of plump lips and sculpted eyebrows? These girls were embracing an idea of female beauty that makes women loathe their bodies.
This learnt dislike of our bodies is age old. Yet, it has recently become more pronounced. This is evident in the number of young women waxing their vaginas, starving themselves, undergoing cosmetic surgery, essentially altering their bodies to look and feel ‘beautiful’. [Source: Kate Phelan, 'Can Feminism Overcome the Beauty Myth?', ABC The Drum]
The not-so-subtle reference to the burqa was cringeworthy, but the point she’s trying to make is fairly clear. Wilson can whine that MTR is trying to stop somebody I don’t know from Glee from liberating herself by dressing scantily, but Wilson also has to accept that her position is damaging to younger generations of women.
Phelan’s point indirectly provides an answer to Wilson’s request that sexual conservatives provide a template for appropriate sexual expression. Phelan states that the commodification of sexuality makes women dislike their bodies. Therefore, an appropriate sexual expression would be one which didn’t make women feel negatively about their bodies.
But I don’t think Phelan was precise enough. In arguing that we need to rewrite the concept of female beauty, she seems to be suggesting that cosmetics are bad.
We get cosmetic surgery, not because we are stupid, but because we want to fit the definition of beautiful.
I don’t want to pay 50 dollars every month to have my naturally growing pubic hair removed with hot wax but I want to be attractive, I want to be accepted. Unfortunately, being pretty appears incompatible with being natural. [Ibid.]
A toxic social narrative about beauty can entail a person wanting to get cosmetic surgery. It doesn’t follow that a person wanting to get cosmetic surgery is doing so due to a toxic social narrative about beauty.
The problem with the commodification of sex and beauty is that it is normalising. Every magazine cover looks pretty much the same and this sameness is called ‘beauty’. A few variations are permitted: will she have dark hair or blonde?
Cosmetics are a weird thing. People can have almost total control over their appearance: they’re not even limited to ‘natural’ colours. Despite this, just about everybody tries to look the same. In this sense, cosmetics weren’t liberating people’s appearance: they were promoting conformity.
The less toxic narrative would be one which promoted diversity and in which women weren’t bombarded with images that scream ‘You have to look like everybody else; everybody else looks like this because they want to be attractive to men’.
My last post attracted some interesting quips from the mouthier atheists who haunt this substandard blog.
The best comment was a plagiarised ‘Theology is just like Fairyology’. It seems to be a fairly common attitude among the ‘new atheist’ (whatever that is; the public image of ‘new atheism’ seems to be old white guys).
On ReligionDispatches.com, Eric Reitan outlined the attitude of ‘new atheists’ towards theology. While I think he accurately identifies the problem, I disagree with his analysis.
The other day, Terry Sanderson—president of the United Kingdom’s National Secular Society—published a short, scathing indictment of theology in The Guardian, a piece titled “Theology—truly a naked emperor.”
This title deliberately recalls H.C. Andersen’s famous fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and by implication its ongoing use by popular atheist critics of religion to defang criticism that they know next to nothing about theology. The fable was first made use of a few years back by atheist blogger (and biologist) PZ Myers in a bit of satire called “The Courtier’s Reply,” a response to H. Allen Orr’sscathing review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in the New York Review of Books. “The Courtier’s Reply” so delighted Dawkins that he quoted it at length in the preface to the paperback edition of his book. [Source: Eric Reitan, 'Can Atheists Simply Ignore Theology?' on ReligionDispatches.com]
Instead of arguing that Dawkins did understand theology, presented it fairly, and dealt it a fatal blow, Myers mocks the criticism. There’s nothing inherently wrong in mocking criticism. Many of our finest minds do it.
Oh hey. See what I did there? If you link something to something dubious, you don’t need to provide evidence that the two things are anything alike. ’Proof by humorous connexion’ is a well-known tool in critical thinking.
More seriously, the ‘proof by humorous connexion’ shields us from having to take criticism seriously. There’s no need to intellectually engage with the claims of our ‘opponents’ because their claims are ridiculous. We don’t even need to know what those claims are. All we have to know is that they’re ridiculous. Don’t question the apparent paradox which arises: how do you know the claims are ridiculous if you don’t know what the claims are? Down that path lies madness and critical thinking, and that’s not what critical thinking is about! No, sir! Critical thinking is about finding ways to avoid criticism and evaluating claims based on your prejudices and biases.
Reitan also notes the inability of ‘new atheists’ to take criticism seriously (or, at the very least, respectfully).
The link to that interview quickly appeared on Richard Dawkins’ Web site under the heading, “Another Flea,” invoking the practice of Dawkins’ supporters to call critics of The God Delusion “fleas.” The very first posted comment was this: “Just from reading the abstract it sounds like another book in ‘The Courtier’s Reply’ category.” The subsequent comments were riddled with mockery. [Ibid.]
This is where I think Reitan’s argument goes pear-shaped. After noting two ways in which ‘new atheists’ shield themselves from criticism (mocking the criticism and belittling the critic), Reitan tries to show why the comparison isn’t apt (the fairy story has a different meaning to the imputed meaning) and why theology is intellectually substantive (‘It is, rather, a certain holistic interpretation of our experience, one that offers an account of the meaning and significance of the empirical world and the lives we lead within it’). Both responses fail to be persuasive.
First, who cares what the actual meaning of the story is when the imputed meaning is more relevant? Imagine you say, ‘Mark, thank you for inviting me ’round for dinner. The meal was terrific.’ It would be downright weird for me to check to see if you were in shock or inquire which part of the meal inspired fear. I don’t think my actions would be justified by appealing to the original meaning of the word. Similarly, the ‘new atheists’ don’t much care for the original meaning of the story or the minutiae of the fairytale. Mere details. If there’s one thing busy atheists lurking on PZ Myers don’t have time for, it’s details. They’re too busy agreeing with each other and chiding fringe theists.
Second, the defence of theology has to be more persuasive than ‘theology is the holistic interpretation of our experience’. The smackdown response to the ‘new atheists’ is to show why theology is intellectually meritorious. So why hasn’t this been forthcoming?
Most serious theologians don’t give a toss what Dawkins and Myers think.
It’s a weird standoff. Just as Dawkins and Myers don’t really care about the claims of the Discovery Institute (and don’t spend vast amounts of time going through their ‘research’), why would theologians care about the ill-informed, belligerent, and oafish claims of Dawkins, Myers, et alia? Dawkins and Myers want to have an intellectually serious position but they can only do that by redefining the game (‘only claims which can be verified using modern science are valid’).
And you can’t question the new rules because it’s impossible to do so using modern science.
In other words, they’re advocating positivism despite the fact that there are no intellectually serious forms of positivism. Karl Popper (the guy who basically handed to us on a silver platter the distinction between science and pseudo-science) destroyed it decades ago: positivism considers only claims which are verifiable may be true, but the claim ‘only claims which are verifiable may be true’ is not itself verifiably true. Nobody’s managed to start a positivism comeback tour.
Some even go a few steps further. Sam Harris tried to play a new Humpty Dumpty game with language by trying to define all valid intellectual pursuits (for example, history) as science. Screw falsification.
The weird thing is that a justification of theology is trivially easy to do.
Science provides a toolkit for evaluating specific types of claims: those which can be verified empirically. There are claims which cannot be verified empirically (if you disagree, try to demonstrate that twice one will always equal two). For those claims, we require different toolkits. Theology (and atheology) provides a toolkit for evaluating religious claims. If you want to make the claim that ‘God does not exist’ using theological arguments, you’re going to need to use the theological toolkit.
Oh, but why would you want to do it using theological arguments? I have no idea, but this has not stopped Christopher Hitchens writing an entire book doing it, and Dawkins dedicating paragraphs of garbled jibberish attempting it. If you’re going to make scientific claims, you need science. If you’re going to make theological claims, you need theology. Are all claims about God theological? No. But — and hold on to your hats, people, because this is going to get controversial — the theological claims are theological.
Woah/whoa. Freak out.
But doesn’t this give a back door to ‘fairyology’? Not really. Nobody uses fairyological claims to dismiss the existence of fairies. In the ‘new atheist’ world polluted with concepts like invisible pink unicorns and flying spaghetti monsters, it’s difficult to distinguish between the intellectually serious and the asinine. This small fact makes it much easier to understand the plethora of rubbish ‘new atheist’ writings (for example, The Australian Book of Atheism).
We plugged it in and we turned it on… Peter Ellerton doesn’t know what Theology is, but he knows what it ain’t
Time for another entry on The Australian Book of Atheism. I’m going to start jumping around through the essays a bit because some of them are so dreadful that any other response than a long stream of profanity seems like overkill.
Tim Minchin. Seriously? Seriously?
Anyway, this entry is a bit of a grey area. Peter Ellerton wrote the entry ‘Theology is not Philosophy’ and it is a trainwreck. It’s in a grey area because he admits, openly and frankly, that he’s a teacher. Google brings up his place of work (I search for the authors because it usually reveals more context… Exhibit A). Given the nature of the internet, can I rip through him knowing that this will probably end up on a Google search for his name? Even if it means his students might be able to find what some anonymous person said about their teacher?
On the other hand, don’t his students have a right to know that their teacher is a complete goof?
And he sure is a goof. Let’s get this ball rolling:
I would like to approach theology by considering its effectiveness as a tool for the development and deployment of critical thinking and reasoning skills normally developed in true philosophical thinking. [...] This will provide, in my view, the ultimate test against which theology can be said to stand or fall as a valid branch of philosophy. [Source: Peter Ellerton, 'Theology is not Philosophy' in The Australian Book of Atheism]
Wait what who what? For some inexplicable reason, we are questioning whether theology is a branch of philosophy. Why? Nowhere in this opening paragraph (or, indeed, the rest of his article) does he explain why he’s writing this dreck (there’s a bit of ‘OMG, did you know some people teach theology in high school instead of philosophy?’ moaning buried deep in the article, but that’s about it). This guy won an award for Critical Thinking and even he doesn’t bother to first answer the question: ‘What am I writing and why am I writing it?’
It’s easy to glide over some of his statements. In the above mentioned passage, he vaguely signposts his test for a ‘valid branch of philosophy’ (as if there were invalid branches of philosophy): ‘effectiveness as a tool for the development and deployment of critical thinking and reasoning skills normally developed in true philosophical thinking’. How can you spot true philosophical thinking? By assessing its ability to develop and deploy critical thinking and reasoning skills normally developed in true philosophical thinking. It’s like saying that you can tell what a horse is by assessing its ability to do things that horses normally do. Later, Ellerton will whinge about theology being circular. From the outset, it’s clear that he can’t spot circular reasoning.
Popular conceptions of philosophy tend to centre around its role as a tool for pondering the meaning of life with vague, hand-waving discussions about esoteric and largely irrelevant points. As a teacher of philosophy, and of mathematics and the sciences, I take a completely contrary view. Philosophy in the Western tradition is a coolly analytical, precise tool for the construction and dissection of ideas. [Ibid.]
Name a philosopher. Bets are on that you named somebody who was either not in the Western tradition or was not coolly analytical and precise. Sartre, for example. Socrates is another. Never mind the huge collection of Eastern philosophers. No, no. They’re not really philosophers — or, if they are, we’re not at all interested in them.
But, for some unexplained reason, it is important to verify that theology is somehow a branch of this deformed, bizzaro-world ‘philosophy’. Remember not to question why this is important.
After a lot of waffle about how he teaches teenagers (it was cringe worthy, so I’ll spare you), we get this bombshell:
I wrote in my opening paragraph that I could dismiss theology in its entirety as an argument whose premises assume its conclusions. [...] The most unsubtle example in a theological context would be: ‘We can believe the Bible because it is the word of God, and we know it is the word of God because the Bible says so.’ No theologian of any training would use such a hopeless argument, but keep this one handy. [Ibid.]
And this basically forms the backbone of his ‘argument’. Dismissing his vision of ‘theology’ as a strawman, he then relies on it extremely heavily throughout the article. Ellerton does what is far too common in atheist literature: conjure a joke version of theology to attack. Very little is cited to demonstrate that he has any knowledge of theology — the bits that he cites suggests that he is shockingly ignorant of it. But that’s not a problem: both he and his intended audience have the same bogeyman version of theology in their minds. He could say: ‘Theology is responsible for drowning kittens’ and his audience would unquestioningly agree (because they want to be great critical thinkers like this award winner).
Remember: I’m an atheist with a background in both philosophy and theology. Ellerton only claims knowledge of one of the fields he is butchering. Throughout his waffly, largely irrelevant article, he never spends any time with theologically relevant points. If this is the sort of ignorant rubbish he teaches (and, as he boasts in his article, he chairs a board which oversees philosophical teaching in high schools), perhaps we should question the worth of these courses in our education system.
A (blessedly) brief visit to a website that makes available an encyclopaedia of Catholic doctrine provides some of the other logical fallacies that lie only a scratch beneath the surface of theology. [Ibid.]
He doesn’t cite any ‘logical’ fallacies (perhaps he should Google that term before using it again) but he does mock the concept of ‘The Blessed Trinity’ in about two sentences. You know, because that’s all the intellectual time theological concepts require.
But his main problem seems to be this:
‘Proof’ is a definable term that cannot be realised by using justifications from scripture, tradition, or dogma. Indeed, the idea is contradictory and counterexamples abound. [Ibid.]
It’s clear that he’s talking through his hat. Ellerton wrote a lot of waffle about premisses and how important they are. Theology uses scripture, tradition, and dogma as the source for the premisses. It doesn’t use them as the mechanism for establishing a proof. Ellerton might want to say that all arguments derived this way are unsound (somehow, arguments related to scripture are incorrect — magic is the only known process by which this could be the case) but he can’t jump to the claim that all arguments derived this way are invalid (because there’s no logical machinery necessitated by the premisses).
Let’s say I have a religion based on Batman.
1. If the Batsignal goes off, Batman will rush to the rescue.
C. Therefore, if the Batsignal goes off and Batman is dead, Batman will rush to the rescue.
That, weirdly enough, is a logically valid argument (strengthening antecedent: P->Q; (P&R)->Q). But you might say that the premisses are invalid because they’re based on fictional works. So the argument is valid, but the argument is not sound. You might also want to say that something is a bit spooky about strengthening antecedents (and you wouldn’t be in poor company: there are thousands upon thousands of essays written every year about the material conditional and why it’s black magic). Ellerton seems incapable of distinguishing these. Why? Because theology is all fairies and mermaids and unicorns, amirite?
We can skip quite a bit of his article. He gets very confused about teleology and what it means. He claims that real philosophy isn’t teleological. This is a problem if you’re Aristotle or Hegel. Sorry guys, but Ellerton has asserted and you’re no longer on Team Philosophy.
We get a few more nuggets buried in the swamps of his prose:
Theology must of course reject any questioning of free will… [Ibid.]
That’s why there are no Christian groups which reject free will… Oh wait! Yes there are! Whoops.
Theology must of needs base its morality (duty, obligation, et cetera) on the text of its holy books. [Ibid.]
What’s weird is that Ellerton disproved this earlier when he said that there were proofs by tradition, proofs by dogma… Did he also fall asleep while he was writing this? Isn’t there some critical thinking commandment to have consistent arguments? Or is it, as I suspect, that he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. One would hope that he’d expect a student of his to cite some evidence for his claims. No, no. Award-winning critical thinkers don’t need evidence.
He then rehashes some severely rebutted garbage about the golden rule (proving again that atheists have difficulty understanding ‘secular’).
Just in case you weren’t already sea sick from the way his essay swings hither and thither, he comes to ‘Faith and Reason’.
I will sharpen my view here and speak of how this tendency to match a vagueness of language has a more sinister side, and one that I think nails the cognitive colours to the mast of theology. I speak of the central role of faith. Since St Anselm, theologians have considered their work to be that of ‘faith seeking understanding’. [Ibid.]
It takes a while for him to get to the meat of this.
Faith seeking understanding has an inescapably oxymoronic feel. There is no sense in which we can reasonably articulate why we choose not to be reasonable; no way we can understand why we should forsake understanding. Faith is belief without reason. No matter what arguments are drafted to the cause of theology, there is no escaping this ultimate truth. [Ibid.]
It’s hard to know where to start. The philosophical term which articulates why we choose not to be reasonable is ‘akrasia’. It’s a term used by Aristotle in the Nichomachaen Ethics. One would think this would be standard reading for a philosophy teacher. Apparently not.
But let that pass. Ellerton got to this position via Kierkegaard (‘full acceptance of the Christine doctrine [...] required [...] a ‘leap of faith’) who isn’t like an undisputed authority in theology. It’d be like quoting Friedman to say that economists are all libertarians. Not all theologians are fideists (the position that God cannot be known through reason). He then linked Kierkegaard’s quote back to Anselm’s out-of-context quote with a flourish ‘Ha, ha! Take that theology!’
It’s utter garbage and can’t possibly pose as a reasonable argument. It particularly bites that he used Anselm who very specifically and methodically explored his faith through critical thinking. It’s beautiful work (even for an atheist like me).
That last point might explain the pettiness of my next gripe.
[O]ne of the most powerful moments in a philosophy classroom is when students come to the realisation that if they cannot explain why they hold a particular view then they have little reason to continue to do so. [Ibid.]
But there’s no ‘law of rationality’ which mandates this. Must all of our views be explicable? Explicable to what extent? Who says? I can’t explain why I hold the view that I am me — Chuang Tzu (one of those philosophers Ellerton dismissed earlier as not a philosopher) is quoted out of context as wondering if he’s a butterfly dreaming that he’s a man and Kant (yet another philosopher dismissed for not being cool and analytical enough) argued that ‘I exist’ is not a proper premiss (to get out of Descartes’ cogito). Does this mean I should stop believing that I’m me? Of course not, but I guess it’s easier for Ellerton to teach his students glib nonsense than it is for a rich man to enter heaven… or something.
Swinging in yet another random direction, here’s Ellerton’s version of the cosmological argument.
Premise 1: All things (effects) have a cause, so all things which physically exist must be caused.
Premise 2: The universe exists.
Conclusion: The universe must have had a cause (sometimes called the prime mover), and this is God. [Ibid.]
Yet another strawman. He could have at least done theologians the courtesy of providing a logically valid argument to attack (the above isn’t). Ellerton then goes to town on this joke version: ‘What caused God?’
Clearly, there’s stuff missing from his version of the argument. Namely, see where he writes ‘physically exists’ in the first premiss? What do you think that means? Could there be other modes of existence? In which mode of existence could God be? See how he writes ‘effects’ in parentheses? Is God an effect which needs a cause? And so on and so forth. But I guess Ellerton didn’t have enough time to do a proper treatment, what with sliding impotently across so many subjects at random.
After yet more waffle, he limps on to spouting aphorisms.
Conclusions only have merit insofar as they can be strongly argued. [Ibid.]
When I read this, I wondered if Ellerton was taking the piss. He completely and unabashedly made absurd assertions about theology, refused to provide any evidence of his claims, hand-waved and postured (mixing in a dash of prejudice for good measure) before claiming that conclusions only have merit insofar as they can be strongly argued! Talk about cheek.
And so there you have it. The holder of an award from a group of Australian atheists cobbling together baseless assertions pitched at the bigotry of his intended audience. What a great group of people we Australian atheists are. So reasonable, rational, and such excellent critical thinkers.
Atheism isn’t a branch of philosopher either, Ellerton.
There are a few debates in Australia which have become rather bland and predictable. Regardless of what happens, the same people make the same arguments with nearly the same words.
When Telstra announced, for example, that it was going to release the 4G network, the usual voices piped up to show why the National Broadband Network would be unnecessary. In response, the usual voices pointed to physics to show why the NBN would still be necessary. And so on and so forth. At the time, I remember reading an article which complained about this predictability and noting that this didn’t make one of the sides incorrect.
The ancient version of this debate, I guess, is the question of division by zero. Despite pretty much everybody agreeing that you can’t divide by zero, there’s a history of cranks who pop up to say: ‘Nope. Everybody’s wrong and I’ve worked out how to divide by zero’. Whenever that happens, the usual suspects go to their usual responses to show why orthodoxy is correct. At no point do we think that we should be dismissive of them just because they’re rehashing their proven responses.
But, when it comes to public policy involving science, people seem to put on their silly boots. ’Bah! You just keep saying that there’s no way for light to travel that quickly! You don’t know that the free market can’t find a way to make faster light! If it were profitable, they could do it! Stop rehashing your old arguments! Broken record, &c., &c.’
We are seeing what happens when people don’t stick to the tested and proven script. Over on ABC’s The Drum, Graham Readfern seems to think the reason why anthropogenic climate change deniers deny anthropogenic climate change is because they have links to industry. That’s the charitable interpretation. The other possibility is that he thinks they’re incorrect because they have links to industry.
It is common to hear the (anti-intellectual) denial of anthropogenic climate change: ‘Climate scientists are paid to agree that anthropogenic climate change is true.’ What is the actual difference between the complaint from the red necks and the complaint from Readfern?
I think we should be less worried about boring old debating scripts and more worried about promoting reasonable and sensible discussion. Admittedly, it would help if the media stopped giving air to trolls like Readfern and Monckton.