Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Notes From Triablogue

I’ve been involved in a discussion at Triablogue, a Christian blog whose “default mode” is Calvinism. A couple weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of Triablogue. Then they picked up on my harsh treatment of Rhology and decided to make a point of criticizing my arguments and views.

I’ve been trying to respond to all of the posts aimed at me, but there are many I haven’t gotten to at all, and others which I haven’t been able to respond to in full. The discussion might be dying down, but I can’t be sure. At the moment there are a total of three Triablogue discussion threads devoted to me (links: one, two, three). I don't know if I should be honored or dismayed.

I can’t say I’m impressed with the argumentative tactics being employed over there. There are a few contributors who might be genuine, thoughtful and sincere, and who I could probably have a simple, intelligent discussion with. Those few are unfortunately overshadowed by a handful of arrogant, manipulative, and seemingly dishonest fellows--these are official "Triabloggers." I’m talking specifically about Steve Hays, Paul Manata, Peter Pike, and Gene Bridges. (It’s not entirely fair to lump them all together like that. The truth is, Steve Hays and Paul Manata are by far the worst of the bunch. But Peter Pike isn’t all that far behind. Gene Bridges hasn’t been so bad, but he’s shown that he’s not afraid of playing their game.)

What impresses me the most isn’t the degree of confusion or misrepresentation they have exhibited, though those are both severe. And it isn’t the lengths some of them have gone to in order to defend their reputations: none have been willing to admit it when they’ve made simple logical mistakes, presented incoherent or confusing arguments, or misrepresented my own arguments, even when this all has been demonstrated to them in excruciatingly simple terms. It isn’t the copious amounts of presumption, or the heaping servings of verbal abuse (to be fair, I’ve laid out some verbal abuse on some of them, as well; it’s just too hard to resist sometimes, and their Website makes it clear that they openly welcome it). No, as impressive as all of the above is, what really gets me is how they’ve developed an entire argumentative strategy that revolves around their irrational view of authority.

It’s not surprising that their arguments center around the Bible and divine revelation as ultimate authorities. However, it is a little disconcerting that they cannot see a rational reason why the Bible doesn’t seem like a very good authority on moral or historical questions, or why a rational person would question the legitimacy of appeals to "divine revelation."

It might be that the religious mind, or the mind of a particular sort of religious person, has a fundamentally irrational approach to authority in general. A rational person recognizes those practical limits and conditions which make appeals to authority a very sensitive matter. Some religious people, however, don’t get it. They see authority as the one and only source of truth, beauty, and justice. Authority comes only in absolutes: either absolutely right (God), or absolutely wrong (everything else). Thus, they not only base their arguments on the dubious authority of the Bible; their entire offensive is centered arround attacking their opponents’ lack of authority. They do this by appealing to other authorities (God, Bible, theological tradition), and asking their opponents to appeal to other authorities.

For example, I’ve been asked how I “justify” nature, as though nature could only exist if there were some authority which made it “just.” I’ve been accused of not having the authority to make arguments about the philosophical issues at hand. I’ve been asked more than once to list all of the books I’ve read about the topic under discussion.
They’ve even criticized me for linking to Websites that they don’t like (in my post, "Ten Reasons Why A Rational Person Should Not Think The Bible Is The Final Word On All Moral Questions," I linked to infidels.org, strongatheism.net, and a Wikipedia entry that referenced the Skeptics Annotated Bible), but without ever responding to the content of those links. As though the content on those links should just be assumed to be invalid, because the Websites are supported by people who don’t agree with the people at Triablogue. As though the formal argument for theological noncognitivism I linked to just has to be invalid, because it’s on strongatheism.net.

To summarize what often passes for a chain of Triablogue reasoning: “How could an atheist or skeptics Website have a valid argument? Of course it can’t. Therefore, Jason is an idiot. QED.”

These criticisms have been offered in lieu of a full and detailed response to my actual arguments. Of course, when they do substantively respond to my actual arguments, they usually get them wrong and fail to fully address my questions.

Yes, from a certain angle, the Triablogue line does look like a whole lot of nonsense.

But it kind of makes sense, if you understand their warped view of authority. For them, the validity of any argument rests on the authority of the person making it. If your authority comes from the Bible and its theological tradition, then they will embrace you. If your authority comes from anywhere else—or if you claim that you don’t actually need any authority to make your arguments, because your arguments can be evaluated on their own merits—then they will not respect what you have to say.

So why have I stuck around, when so much mud has been slung in an effort to discredit me?

First of all, I have to admit, I like seeing people getting so worked up over my ideas. Especially people who are so used to thinking they are right. It would be nice if there were some signs that my views have been correctly understood, instead of having them repeatedly mangled beyond recognition
. However, I’ve learned that such confusion should be treated as an opportunity to develop my own communication skills. And, frankly, you’re bound to get into tangles when you disagree over the very meaning of basic terms like “morality” and “truth.” So this is kind of like exercise.

Triablogue is giving me a platform to develop my arguments, to present my ideas as strongly as I can to people who disagree with me with all of their heart and mind. While several of them probably won’t ever question their assumptions enough to understand me, I know there are at least some people reading with a somewhat open mind.

Of course, a time will come when the party will have to end. Perhaps I’ll tire of being misunderstood. Perhaps they’ll tire of running through the same material over and over again. Or maybe I’ll just find a better way to spend those few extra hours a week.

In any case, I appreciate those who have been following the discussions and who have responded here with encouragement. It’s nice to know that some people out there are paying attention and finding some value in what I’ve been trying to do.

As I recently told them over at Triablogue, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to continue my end of the discussion. I want to go through all of the posts directed towards me again, just to make sure I haven’t left anything out, and then respond with an argument as thorough and clear as I can muster. It should cover all of the bases, including consciousness and the nature of subjectivity, the foundations of morality, mathematics, and logic, as well as the incoherence of theology and the illegitimacy of the Bible as a moral authority.

I will post that argument here, but I’m not sure when I’ll have time to write it. Maybe not until January.