Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Courtier's Reply

What the New Atheists call the Courtier's Reply concerns the fact that the New Atheist attack on theistic belief is often made in ignorance of what the theist believes. The rebuttal to the reply is that atheists claim that God does not exist, and therefore detailed accounts of exactly what Christians or other theists believe about their God is irrelevant.

In the emperor case, then king is naked, and this can be discovered by looking, and what color the imaginary clothes are supposed to be is irrelevant. 

The legitimacy of this response depends on what aspects of theism are relevant to the arguments Dawkins and company are making. It is a matter of what is relevant to the reasons for rejecting Christianity or theism. Admittedly, a lack of knowledge about the difference between Arianism and orthodox trinitarianism is probably not relevant. However, to make this kind of claim, one needs to know what sorts of arguments for theism have been advanced. For example, if you go around saying that you can refute any first cause argument by asking the question who made God, you have to take into account the fact that the causal principles defenders of cosmological arguments use normally don't require that anything and everything needs a cause. In the case of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the principle is "Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence." In the case of the Thomistic argument from contingency, there is a distinction between contingent and necessary beings, and while contingent things need causes, necessary beings do not. So your defense of the claim that all cosmological arguments fail in this way will inevitable come across as ignorant to people who know something about how such arguments are supposed to work

If your claim is that the God of the Bible is morally deficient, then you have to have some understanding about how Scripture passages are interpreted and understood by theologically informed religious believers. You could make the case against God without bringing any of this up, but if it is part of your case against God, then you need to do your homework and understand what believers actually say about this.

If your argument is that religion conflicts with science, then you have to take seriously the kinds of attempts that are made to reconcile religion and science by people who have considered the question.

Hence, some aspects of theology are going to be relevant to the arguments you would be making, and others may not be.

38 comments:

Andrés said...

Excellent.

Al Moritz said...

Perhaps relevant to this is something I posted today at commonsenseatheism.com:


As I have repeatedly said here, atheism — and in particular naturalism, I would add –, while it may view itself as an extrapolation from science, is a *philosophical* extrapolation, *not* a scientific one (it goes beyond what the methodology of science can conclude, see also the statement by the National Academy of Sciences, quoted above). Since atheism and naturalism are philosophies, just like theism is *), an informed decision pro and con should include being thoroughly informed about philosophical issues.

My experience from articles and discussions is that many atheists just do not know enough about philosophy to judge arguments pro and con theism (or atheism for that matter) in a thoroughly informed way. I am *not* saying that once you are philosophically informed, atheism is automatically out of the window and theism has to be embraced — that will depend on how the different points of view are weighed.

However, I do claim that if people were better informed, one and the same person might make his/her choices differently. I definitely know from myself that, had I not been fortunate to be sufficiently informed about philosophical issues before I had my crisis in 2006, where I embraced evolution as self-sufficient process, began to view an origin of life by natural causes as highly likely, and rejected ID, I might very well be an atheist today. Yet fortunately I had the tools to see the spectrum of philosophical alternatives in a more complete manner, and could make a more informed decision. In my case it lead to a re-embrace of theism.

But I do understand how someone can become an atheist. And when coming from a fundamentalist, science-rejecting religious background, the choice can often seem either science or religion, period. It is not surprising that many choose science when faced with the dilemma and discovering the truth about science. I myself, as a Catholic, have never experienced a fundamental conflict on this issue, so this hardly played into my decision (I only needed to re-evaluate during my crisis how science relates to religion).

*) granted, theism contains a lot of theology as well, but its very foundation, the existence of God, is a philosophical question

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, have you ever dismissed someone's claim without fully understanding it? We do this all of the time. The so-called New Atheists are dismissing your claims just as you dismiss most other religious claims.

The Courtier's Reply is an effective response in a place and time where your god is dying out among the young.

No one expected you to like it. It marginalizes you and it's effective whether you like it or not. Hint: They didn't ask your permission! ;-)

Warren said...

"Your god is dying" seems to be JL's theme of the day. This idea really seems to rev up his engines.

In other words, the guy couldn't care less about truth - he just wants to be on the side he thinks is winning.

No wonder he couldn't hack being a Christian.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't have time to consider everybody's claims as fairly as even I would like to do. But if I write a book proclaiming that what they believe is a delusion, then I had better do my homework.

John W. Loftus said...

Why Vic? Don't you think what Dawkins did was effective? You don't like being ridiculed, do you? Well, you can thank him for that. We ridicule ridiculous ideas just as surely as we do the Emperor who has no clothes on. Now atheist are laughing more than arguing. So by arguing against him Christians have largely missed what he has done, and an argument won't do it. You are being laughed at on late-night shows and on the internet like never before.

As I said, I understand why you wouldn't like it. But from my years trying to argue deluded people out of their faith who will find any loophole possible to keep it I say the laughter is way overdue. You do in fact demand that I must show your faith impossible before you will see it as improbable. There is no other way to put things to you. And since I cannot show your faith is impossible then the only thing to do with a deluded person like that is laugh at them. That's what the new atheists have done. Good luck arguing yourself out of this one.

Anonymous said...

Loftus,

You said: "You are being laughed at on late-night shows and on the internet like never before."

I have had so many laughs out of you these past few days!

Eric said...

"Now atheist are laughing more than arguing. So by arguing against him Christians have largely missed what he has done, and an argument won't do it. You are being laughed at on late-night shows and on the internet like never before."

If this really is the strategy, then the New Atheists will lose, and lose quickly. Here are a few things to consider.

(1) Think about the sort of person this strategy will attract. It will attract jerks, followers, the intellectually insecure, and the ignorant. If you want that to be your base, then you're not going to get very far.

(2) Think about the effect this strategy will have on budding Christian intellectuals. Your laughter will inspire them to bury you with arguments, and it will make the job look easy, since you're not fighting back.

(3) Think about the effect this strategy will have on the average, college educated person who is genuinely confused about these issues. He'll see the New Atheists laughing while the Christian theists calmly present argument after argument. Bill Maher vs. Bill Craig? No contest.

(4) Think about the effect this strategy will have on the average, uneducated person who is genuinely confused about these issues. He may not be able to understand all the arguments the Christian theists are presenting, but he'll certainly notice that one side is laughing at the other for being 'stupid,' while the 'stupid' side is focusing on reason and on the arguments.

I don't see it working. You'll grab a few here and there, to be sure, but overall they won't be worth much. I prefer the good work you did in WIBA; this "we're laughing because you're stupid" stuff won't go very far at all.

Victor Reppert said...

So, basically this is going to just be a propaganda war. You declare victory in the debate and turn everything to propaganda?

I presented an analysis of what the logical force of the Courtier's Reply amounts to. I was not assessing its effectiveness as propaganda.

Crude said...

Eric,

I've long thought that one of the main effects of the New Atheists has been to recruit the sorts you mention in #1, and I think the effect you're noting has already been fulfilled in large part. It pretty much ensures that the days of Humes or Russells or even Dawkins being representative of atheists or the religion-critical are in the past due to this strategy. Instead we're going to get the atheist equivalent of Ray Comforts.

(I'd also note that if the future trend of atheist apologetics requires humor, wit, and sarcasm, John's pretty screwed. He was on shaky ground, but better ground than that, when he at least attempted to argue.)

Crude said...

Victor, I don't expect you to answer this - but as a guy who's been reading these exchanges for a while now, I really have to wonder.

Why do you spend time arguing with a guy who engages in antics like this? He just said flat out that he could care less about argument, reason, or debate - he's about publicity and rhetorical effectiveness regardless of truth. When you add in his track record (the blog thing, the book review thing, etc), the problem becomes more pointed.

I know you think that it's important to engage bad arguments if they're popular. I respect that and think you do a great job. But you know, the argument doesn't have to come with the man who made them. And by engaging with the man rather than just the argument, you do lend him credibility in spite of his insults, screaming, and dishonesty.

I'm just a nobody who reads your stuff, so do what you will. But I figured I'd finally come out and say this.

Warren said...

>> You are being laughed at on late-night shows and on the internet like never before.

Oh, NO!!! Say it ain't so!

So, David Letterman and John Loftus think Thomas Aquinas is a big doo-doo head, do they? Damn, that really gives me pause....

Victor Reppert said...

Crude: I'll admit something here, I enjoy getting him to harm his own cause. Guilty pleasure. But I do hope that he goes back to making a more serious contribution to the discussion, something I believe he is still capable of doing.

Crude said...

Fair enough, Victor. Your house, your rules. Just had to ask after seeing this crap a time too many.

Eric said...

"The legitimacy of this response depends on what aspects of theism are relevant to the arguments Dawkins and company are making. It is a matter of what is relevant to the reasons for rejecting Christianity or theism."

I agree, though I think this has to be qualified with, "as the CR (Courtier's Reply) is now understood." As Brandon at Siris has pointed out, the CR as it was originally crafted only makes sense as a response by an atheist to an atheist. That is, when an atheist like Michael Ruse tells Richard Dawkins that he needs to learn theology, Dawkins can in a sense rightly respond, "What do you mean? We both can see that the emperor is naked; why must I study texts on imaginary fabrics?" Now, however, the CR is almost exclusively used by atheists against theists. In this context, the CR is ridiculous, for the issue is whether the emperor really is naked; to assume that theology is akin to treatises on imaginary fabrics is to beg the question.

But, to the extent that the CR has now morphed and branched into at least two forms: the first is something like, "I don't need to learn theology to see that it's nonsense, since I can see that the emperor is naked," and I think that Victor's response to this version is spot on; the second form is, "you can't just refer me to this or that theologian, or to this or that book -- you have to make some effort to present the arguments themselves." This is fair as far as it goes (depending on the context of the discussion, of course), but it's nothing at all like the original CR.

Victor Reppert said...

Of course, that depends on how you are interpreting the criticisms of people like Ruse. A charge of ignorance of theology on matters not relevant to the existence of God is one thing, a charge of ignorance of matters that are relevant to the question of theism is quite another. And it depends on what arguments you're using. If you are Bible-bashing, then you need to know something about Bible interpretation. If you are arguing against first cause arguments, then you need to know what those arguments are.

Eric said...

"Of course, that depends on how you are interpreting the criticisms of people like Ruse. A charge of ignorance of theology on matters not relevant to the existence of God is one thing, a charge of ignorance of matters that are relevant to the question of theism is quite another."

I agree. But I can at least make sense of the CR when it's used by atheists agaisnt atheists, since both already agree that treatises on imaginary fabric are just that. What those texts say may matter when dealing with those who think the emperor is clothed, but not 'in-house,' as it were. But when the CR is directed by an atheist toward a theist, it's blatantly question begging.

Papalinton said...

Tell me, who is again , that believes:

. in dead putrescent corpses getting up and walking?

. people can walk on water

. that snakes talk

. in a coupe of fish and bread can feed 4-5,000

. that exodus actually happened

. that Adam has no navel, and

. Eve has no navel

Theists, how do you know? You weren't there.

Courtier's reply, indeed.

Sheesh

cl said...

Loftus,

"Now atheist are laughing more than arguing."

Accordingly, theists are face-palming more than responding.

John W. Loftus said...

Crude, who says I don't argue? I most emphatically do that. Yours is the kind of utter ignorance we will bury if that's the conclusion you derive from what I said here.

And I know Christians are laughing at me. They have ALWAYS laughed, derided, mocked, imprisoned, tortured and killed atheists.

We no longer fear you, your God, or your threats of hell! We're now publicly laughing at you. Get the point. And I'm saying that's a good thing. It's abut time.

And in case it has also escape your brainwashed minds there still exist today your Russell's, Flew's, and Mackie's. What, do you live under a rock or something? There are philosophical atheist works like Oppy, Rowe, Sobel, Everitt, Martin, too many to name. Keith Parsons thinks they have done such a good job there is nothing left for him to do. And there are biblical secularist scholars like Hector Avalos, Burton Mack, Bart Ehrman, William Dever, too many to name. And there are scientists like Stephen Hawkings and Victor Stenger, too many to name.

We come in many flavors, you see, and some of us, like me, will combine both mockery and argumentation depending on the circumstances.

I have been arguing daily for about six years online. I tire of arguing with people who continually move the goal posts, who continually seek out the tiniest loophole to drive a truckload of Christian assumptions through, who refuse to see the implications of the current state of the human mind, and who refuse to see the obvious and clear impact of my Outsider Test for Faith.

I've heard it all. And it disgusts me. As I said, you do in fact demand that I must show your faith impossible before you will see it as improbable. Not only that, but you refuse to see what you're doing.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I've provided some examples.

Cheers

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, Christian arguments are failing. As they do atheists will laugh more. The reason for the ridicule is because it's becoming patently obvious Christians have no good arguments. And I help provide the arguments. It's not a laughter out of any ignorance, you see, although some do this. It a reasoned based laughter. Christian arguments are patently false so therefore we laugh.

Warren said...

>> [Christians] have ALWAYS laughed, derided, mocked, imprisoned, tortured and killed atheists.

Just switch the words "Christians" and "atheists" around, and there's a lot of historical truth in that sentence.

To paraphrase Dean Wormer of Animal House: "Rude, blind and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

Ana said...

John, an atheist's intended effect of using ridicule against a belief, is not only intellectually a turn-off (if) this is his preferred strategy of addressing views he disagrees with, but it also looses its potential 'funniness', if it is evident that the atheist's ridicule reflects extremely poor thought.

Take Richard Dawkins, for him to ridicule the Ontological Argument by way of saying a being who can create a universe, while not existing is greater than a being who needs to exist in order to create the universe, conclusion therefore God does not exist -- that's not funny. A logically-contradictory response clothed as ridicule, does not defeat the argument it targets.

And this is a lot of times what happens when a person fixates too much on wanting to ridicule -- focusing too much on the ridicule at the expense of critically thinking through whether the ridicule is, ironically, ridiculous itself.

Victor Reppert said...

The simple fact is that ridicule is a brainwashing technique. It attempts to persuade without proving. The claim that proof has been given and theists won't listen is a lame excuse. In the long run, it doesn't do any good to get people to get the right answer for the wrong reason. Intelligent people who think that other people are trying to brainwash them will become resistant to these tactics. The nonbelievers who have raised the toughest problems for my faith are never the ones who use these kinds of tactics. It's hypocritical to criticize others for being brainwashed and then use brainwashing tactics yourself. It also takes away from your criticisms of people like J. P. Holding when you get down in the gutter with them.

cl said...

Vic:

"[mockery] attempts to persuade without proving."

In direct contradiction to his own standards, persuasion without proof is John's MO. Consider:

"We should all ask for positive evidence for that which we accept as true." [Loftus]

...then,

"[science] has also shown us there was no Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt." [Loftus]

Note the glaring inconsistency, not to mention the irony of John arguing from the gaps, much like the "deluded" he mocks and derides!

cl said...

Loftus:

"As I said, you do in fact demand that I must show your faith impossible before you will see it as improbable."

Actually, all I ask is that you be consistent and just make a decent argument every now and again. You can't wax poetic about positive evidence and then argue from the gaps--at least, not if you wish to be taken seriously. Calling people foul names isn't going to cut the mustard, I'm afraid!

John W. Loftus said...

cl, you are ignorant. If Vic wants to be the educator then perhaps he should start by educating you about critical thinking.

I'm unsubscribing from this thread.

cl said...

Loftus,

I assure you I'm thinking critically. I've taken note of your professed standard for the acceptance of truth claims, then juxtaposed that standard against truth claims you've made, and found the latter wanting. Can't you see the discrepancy?

Why more attacks and name-calling? Why not just straighten this out? Is it really that hard to say, "Okay, I was wrong there?"

Is my "walled in by pride" comment starting to make sense yet?

Crude said...

Crude, who says I don't argue? I most emphatically do that. Yours is the kind of utter ignorance we will bury if that's the conclusion you derive from what I said here.

You mostly flail, John. You don't argue so much as state arguments, then utterly melt and flail once the counter-arguments come in. "You are deluded!" is not an argument. "We will bury is you!" is not an argument. "I am tired of arguing!" is not an argument.

We come in many flavors, you see, and some of us, like me, will combine both mockery and argumentation depending on the circumstances.

You're pretty much the bottom of the barrel, John. Notice I didn't throw Russell, Mackie, Flew or the rest in the same boat as you, despite my disagreements with their thoughts, even my low opinions of some of their arguments. It's because they generally don't have your track record: One of documented dishonesty, one of blatantly admitting you'll say whatever you can if you think the reaction you'll get is what you want, etc.

You say "we", as if you're shoulder to shoulder with Hawking, Russell, and the rest. You're not, and all indications are you never will be. You can't seem to accept that - but that's fine. I've noticed that you are very committed to, emotionally invested in, your own delusions.

I have been arguing daily for about six years online.

"Arguing", John. You're pretty much 5% argument, 35% 'buy or read my book damnit!', with the rest alternating amounts of "WE ARE WINNING I SWEAR" and "YOU IDIOT! FOOL!" It ain't impressive. You aren't even good at the mockery - there's no wit, no humor, and your emotionalisms are no substitute for either.

Here's my advice, John: Pack it in. Call it a day. Leave atheism, philosophical and theological argument to the many people who are more capable than you, and get a real job. Something that plays to your skills - cubicle work. Data entry. Something along those lines.

And here's the great thing, John: You can donate your money to atheist evangelists who are much, much better at this whole thing than you are. Really, you pay a lot of lip service to science and reason: If you want to advance the atheist cause, I'm giving you the most effective way you can contribute.

Think about it.

BenYachov said...

>I'm unsubscribing from this thread.

If only that where really true.....

Crude said...

It also takes away from your criticisms of people like J. P. Holding when you get down in the gutter with them.

I want to say: That's an insult to Holding. I'm not a fan of Holding's style, especially what I see on his blog. But if Holding and John got into a wrestling match, Holding is the one who would come out dirtier than he started.

Victor Reppert said...

Probably.

mattghg said...

I agree with Crude.

Anonymous said...

Crude, the 2:50 post was beautiful. You have a talent for verbal smack-downs.

Ana said...

The simple fact is that ridicule is a brainwashing technique

mm, I don't think it is necessarily. Although, when a person uses it to the point that the person has followers praising ridicule as if it's just the grandest thing, better than rebuttal itself, then I think there's been some brainwashing done, subtle, but nonetheless there. Not the fault of ridicule itself, but of how the person manipulates its use.

I don't condemn ridicule in an absolute sense. And if I did I likely would not live up to my own standard, which would be hypocritical on my part.

What I do condemn is making is overwhelmingly substituting ridicule for serious dialogue, or making ridicule the default method of address towards the target.

Jim McCosh said...

I think that Myers' double standards are revealed here-

http://saintsandsceptics.blogspot.com/2011/02/mcatheism-and-yuk-factor.html

Jim McCosh said...

that should read mcatheism-and-yuk-factor.html