Thursday, February 24, 2011


Killing Kings

Russell Blackford has, to my mind, a rather strange defense to the latest incompatiblist - accommodationist debate sparked by Jean Kazez. You'll have to follow the links to understand the contretemps if you are not already familiar.

[T]here is always going to be a level of very robust debate on the internet, so it's always possible to find examples of people who really are behaving very rudely and perhaps rejecting ideas of politeness. But that's not something unique to people with New Atheist sympathies. You'll find people behaving like this when discussing the merits of political parties, sports teams, movies, comic-book artists, or whatever else people get passionate about. So it's hardly fair saying that the New Atheism encourages incivility any more than these other things. The most that can be said is that the subject of religion is now debated on the internet in a way that was not common a decade ago, so inevitably it attracts the same kind of very robust arguments as, say, sport or politics. Inevitably, some people will let off steam on their own blogs, and we'll see even more robust expression from anonymous commenters. ...

[A] great deal that has happened has had a context. If people who don't believe they have been especially uncivil are chided not to be "a dick", or if lies are told about people like them behaving in public in outrageously uncivil ways, and if stories are told that suggest they are uncivil in the manner of the children in Jean's story, it produces certain emotions. To be blunt, it creates anger and ill-will.

Fair enough. But that also describes how theists respond to atheists and others who discuss the merits of their beliefs.

As I've said before in a [cough] slightly different context:

Poking peoples' emotions with a sharp stick is likely to make 'em squeal and it's no use pretending to be surprised.

But it also has to be remembered how often Gnus regale us with tales of how much more rational they are than theists.

If Gnus can be hurt so much by the anti-Courtier's Reply, then maybe they can at least take a moments' effort to consider what effect what they say has on others.


Now that I think about it, labeling something a "Courtier's Reply" is actually a distraction from the "burdon of proof" problem.

It's "I don't need to study the scholarship, I know the Emperor has no clothes."

Problem is, no actually has seen the emperor, so how do you know?
Problem is, no actually has seen the emperor, so how do you know?

So you are asserting that the biblical stories of the people who have seen and spoken to the emperor are incorrect? And how exactly do you know this?
Hmm, good point. How about:

I don't know that anyone has actually seen the emperor, so how do I know?
Watch out, TB, you're getting perilous close to the creationists saying 'We weren't there, God was, so Genesis is literal truth.'
I don't know that anyone has actually seen the emperor, so how do I know?

I guess that's more fair than the Courtier's Reply. Unless they want money or something. Then tentatively invoke the Courtier's and tell then to hit the road. It just isn't possible to read all the scholarship. It's beyond our capacities. A completely unresolvable situation. Oh well...
No, I'm referring specifically to the analogy. I don't believe anyone, even the littlle girl, has seen this "emperor" and we don't know whether he exists or not. And if that's the case, how do we know whether or not he has clothes?

So to dismiss the scholarship of a courtier based on an assumption that they're wrong without even looking at the scholarship strikes me as an error of deliberate ignorance.

That's not a judgement on the quality of any particular scholarship - good or bad.
My last comment was to Mike, btw. But I thought more about this:

'We weren't there, God was, so Genesis is literal truth.'

I wouldn't assume this wrong simply because, say, I might not believe in god. I think it's wrong because I understand the claim and examined what it means in the context of the evidence we have - scientifically that the universe and earth are old. Additionally I could think it wrong theologically because to believe this would be to have believe in a god that lies to us about the natural world.
But to simply wave something away as false without bothering to see if I have proof against it - that's unsatisfying. That's the kind of arrogance that proceeds a fall.
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