Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Do believers and nonbelievers have a common goal when they discuss religious questions?

I think that is critical to the pursuit of discussion. We want people to agree with us, but should this be our only goal? Is there, or should there be, a legitimate goal of trying to understand our differences, and trying to find our what really brings about the disagreement concerning the matter, or, say, belief in God or Christianity?

I think not enough attention has been paid to C. S. Lewis's remarks at the founding of the Oxford Socratic Club. He maintained that such a society was valuable at Oxford because by means of it we could hope to civilize one another.

I think the question we should ask people who are in dialogue about religious beliefs is what their goals are. I think that dialogue about religion isn't simply about getting others to agree with us. It is also about getting others to understand us better and to understand others better. Thus, if I engage an atheist in discussion, I consider it unlikely that that person will accept Christ as a result of what I say. I take that as a given. What I hope will happen is that they will understand my position somewhat better, and hopefully, gain some intellectual sympathy for my position. And with enhanced intellectual sympathy, maybe something will happen along the line. Or not.  But I do not assume that when I have failed to convince my interlocutor that I am right, that the discussion has been a failure. Far from it. 

What I hear from people out of the New Atheist camp, however, is something along the lines of "Yes, I am responding to you, but your reaction isn't important. I know that you are a hopeless faith-head. But, maybe other people might be listening who are more open to the truth, and maybe if I show zero intellectual sympathy with you and show just how much contempt I have for what you believe, maybe the fence-sitters will jump the fence my way." 

This is the Dawkins playbook, and it has been a great disappointment to see Loftus fall for it, for example. 

But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt. 

The strategy here is essentially to deny that believers and unbelievers have a common goal as well as an adversarial goal when the enter discussion with one another. If the common goal goes unrecognized, then we are going to not get anywhere, and that is why I have gotten considerably less satisfaction out of blogging than I did a few years ago. I don't know what to do about it, but I think it's important that people to look at what is being said not only in terms of what side it is on, but also whether the claims are well-supported or not. We have to be ready to criticize our own side if bad arguments are being used. 


18 comments:

Dan Gillson said...

I don't think having a common goal is as important as having a sporting attitude. Religious questions are argued after all. It helps the discussion if the two (or three, or more) sides of an argument have a real appreciation for not only the contest, but for the rules as well. I know that when I get short on patience with someone, it's because they display either a lack of appreciation for the contest, the rules, or both.

Crude said...

I think having a common goal is important, but not in totality.

The essential ingredients for an actual discussion - a real discussion, where people are sincerely talking about issues, reflecting on points, and trying to understand each other while making their case - requires the following.

Sincere mutual respect for the individual and their view.
Self-awareness and honesty.
An acknowledgment of the possibility of being incorrect, or learning something new.

The problem is that when your goal is simply 'maximize converts, minimize dissent', all three of those are not just optional - they are burdens.

Freethinking in its truest sense is anathema to the Cultist of Gnu as much as it is to the presuppositionalist.

Dave Duffy said...

I don't get it.

Is anyone so weak to be persuaded by, "Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt" from the most feeble and neurotic group like JWL groupies?

Papalinton said...

"Do believers and nonbelievers have a common goal when they discuss religious questions?"

No. And nor should they. Religious questions are a matter for the believer. They are largely irrelevant or peripheral to the question of addressing the challenges facing humanity going forward. A community comprises believers of all stripe and colour, and non-believers with an equal range of colours and stripes. The common language shared by humanity is secularism. That is the foundation for the common good in the US and indeed all free-loving, democratic societies. Secularism is the lingua franca through which people are able to build toward the greater good of the community.

If somebody wants to put up a monument of the Ten Commandments on the front lawn of the Capitol Building, equally so should the Satanists, the Scientologists and Wiccans be entitled to share the same front lawn. To those who wish to indulge in this form of activity, knock yourselves out.

But in terms of public policy, secularism is the appropriate paradigm that genuinely protects both believers and non-believers.

Whatever is thrown into the middle of the ring on this site about religious questions is simply an enjoyable bout of arm wrestling in the culture wars between those that seek to remain manacled to supernatural superstition as an explanatory model of reality, and those that seek to place humanity on a surer, steadier,, evidence-based, observable, testable, empirical and naturalistic epistemology as the basis for sound public policy.

And that's a good thing.

John W. Loftus said...

I didn't write the quote attributed to me:

https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/militant-atheist-wall-of-wisdom-v-2/

B. Prokop said...

Some apropos observations on Dawkins's inability to see more than one side of an argument can be found HERE.

Crude said...

Is anyone so weak to be persuaded by, "Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt" from the most feeble and neurotic group like JWL groupies?

JWL groupies? No. Tiny group, inconsequential.

Dawkins groupies? Used to be the case before he became a pariah.

Victor Reppert said...

No quote was attributed to you, John, either in the OP or the comments. What I said was was that you had fallen for the Dawkins line on the issue of ridicule and the use of ridicule.

So I don't know what you're talking about.

im-skeptical said...

Honestly, Victor. You rail against people like Loftus and Dawkins for not being on your lofty intellectual plane. You call them by epithets, you misrepresent their positions, and you fail to understand their arguments. What makes you think you're better than they are?

Crude said...

Is there anything funnier than Cultists of Gnu who are all in favor of endorsing mockery of all religious people and theists, period, as a means to bully others into changing their positions or staying silent - but when someone merely criticizes their little cult behavior, they lose their shit and collapse into a litany of complaints and whining? ;)

Victor Reppert said...

I think I see what their arguments are leading toward. When you accuse your opponents of being delusional, it profoundly affects the course of discussion. Attempt to criticize a view is one thing, to call it delusional and attempting to marginalize it is something different.

im-skeptical said...

Are you seriously trying to tell me that you don't marginalize them?

Crude said...

I think I see what their arguments are leading toward. When you accuse your opponents of being delusional, it profoundly affects the course of discussion.

Not just delusional, but outright advocating mockery and ridicule as a means to convert people. That doesn't just alter the course of discussion - it's a rejection of it.

And it's easy to see why in the case of Loftus and Dawkins. Discussion... does not go well, for them.

Victor Reppert said...

I think that, for example, the Outsider Test for Faith is really an interesting idea with a number of epistemological implications. But when you get into discussion about it, it ends up seeming more like a war than a debate, where the other side seems totally unwilling to make any concessions at all.

Victor Reppert said...

One saving grace for John is that he has criticized the overuse of the Courtier's Reply, which essentially says "Your position is so stupid that we don't even have to bother to understand it to attack it."

How can you have a real discussion when someone says something like that? I have no idea.

im-skeptical said...

Courtier's reply? Victor, we've discussed this before, particularly regarding Dawkins. You steadfastly refuse to understand what he says. You interpret it in the most uncharitable way possible. I'm not saying he makes sophisticated philosophical arguments. I'm saying you simply don't hear what he says. And that's only because of your refusal to listen. How can you have a discussion with someone who only hears his own side?

Crude said...

It's funny how there have been numerous atheists on this site over the years who have had entirely productive conversations with Victor, but Skep can only find fault in the theist side of every single exchange - particularly where his idols are concerned.

If ever Dawkins' words are interpreted in a way that reflects poorly on him - even if that's the clear and obvious meaning of them - it's 'uncharitable'. Like that time Skep dug in his heels about an interpretation of Loftus' words that was totally uncharitable, and he chose to interpret them a different way... until Loftus himself showed up and reaffirmed the original meaning.

The problem ain't with Victor, Skep. It's with you.

im-skeptical said...

More on the Courtier's reply. Loftus might want to read this, too.