Monday, August 14, 2006

On comments

I have made it a policy not to ban people from this blog. Some fellow bloggers have taken exception to this policy, and I respect their opinions. That doesn't mean I never will. But if one person is banned, then where do you draw the line? I don't want to be accused of screening my commenters in a such a way that only those who agree with me can comment. I should remind everyone that poor behavior reflects badly on the beliefs you are trying to defend. People want to know if a belief is true, but it is natural also to wonder what kind of person your favorite belief is making you. I sometimes rely on other commenters to say some of the harsh things I would like to say, but prefer not to. I think there is as place for sharply worded criticism.

At the same time, some things do tick me off. Comments that are long and off-topic are annoying. If your post is long and is on-topic, it had better be interesting. In my philosophy classes I tell my students that if they exceed the page limit on the paper, I won't penalize them so long as they don't bore me. If they do, I have the right to stop reading and put a grade on the paper without reading it to the end. I'm not grading your comments, but you get my drift.

Second, I really dislike ridicule, from either side of the fence. Let's take Christianity as an example. You may think it's false, you may think there is good reason to believe that it is false. But it is accepted by thinking, reflective individuals who do ask serious questions. We may be wrong, but we're not stupid. For example, I read the writings of Bertrand Russell when I was 18 years old. When I was in college I was a pain in the rear end to all my Christian friends because, as one of them put it, I had an unusual talent for raising objections to Christianity. I felt the force of the wishful thinking objection and wanted to be sure that I didn't believe just because I wanted to believe. I majored in philosophy because I knew I would be bothered by the intellectual problems Christianity faces, and I wanted to consider them now rather than later. To hear some atheists talk, people like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Hasker, Robert and Marilyn Adams, William Alston, C. S. Lewis, and your humble blogger are simply stupid or beguiled by their wishes. Now this is not an appeal to authority; I am not saying that Christianity must be true because all these people believe it. But I think that there are enough serious and reflective Christians at the highest levels of education to rule out ridicule. Oh and I forgot about Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project.

I realize that some people, on Biblical grounds, suppose that atheists are in a state of bad faith; that they believe what they do because of the noetic effects of sin. I've gotten into that issue before; whatever may be true on that issue, my evaluation of the evidence for and against theism is such that I do not think a claim of this sort can be defended by philosophical argument. Even if you subscribe to the Bad Faith Theory of Atheism, I consider the ridicule heaped on atheists that I see on some blogs to be a bad witness. In any event, it is hard for me to believe that atheists like William Rowe, or my undergraduate teacher Ted Guleserian, are in bad faith any more than the next person.

Again, I do think there is a place for sharply worded criticisms. And it's hard to see the line between sharply worded criticisms and ridicule. Nevertheless, there is such a line.

If you really think, for exmaple, that all Christians are mindless wishful thinkers, think twice. Then three times and four times.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Reppert,

Sorry for getting off topic on the problem of evil post. I was addressing one of the commentors and was responding to where they were going rather than the topic at hand. Please don't ban me! Thanks...

Victor Reppert said...

Goodness no. There's no need to be afraid. I am not thinking of banning anyone. And you can respond to anything a commenter says if you would like. I'm not even going to consider banning anyone unless they show a persistent pattern of violation, and I will warn that person first. Everyone strays off topic to some extent from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said and I agree. I do try to always stay on topic but sometimes it is not easy. As you know, it is an emotionally laden topic. Like many others here, I am motivated by my desire to "save" people from what I consider false and harmful beliefs. Most people here have been very respectful even when we disagreed and I apologize if I myself have been out of line on occasion.

Edwardtbabinski said...

I agree. Long winded uninteresting prose has less a chance of being read. That is what one might call karma.

But by "long and off topic" I hope you're not referring to my posts that raise the topic of asking just how much philosophers know concerning each Big question?

It is part of philosophizing to point out the difficulty with assuming too much for the explanatory properties of words themselves--words and generalizations that have been swallowed as a matter of course for two thousands years, swallowed apart from myriads of painstaking experiments just now taking place and that take lifetimes to complete--words that one can bend and reshape with other words just to make it seem as if one has "solved" a problem "philosophically" when even a coherent internally consistent answer is NOT necessarily THE "solution" but merely "a" solution.

Speaking of such philosophical wax-nose-bending, neither has anyone been able to disprove Leibnitz's hypothesis that the physical brain and the "spiritual" mind run completely parallel to one another in different worlds without even connecting, yet they remain parallel due to a "pre-established harmony."

Even Gosse's hypothesis, or the extreme version of it (that every-was-created-a-minute-ago-including-our-memories), remains unfalsifiable, as does the "matrix-like" view that we are all simply "brains-in-vats" being manipulated by electrodes that create the apparent world around us.

Of course only one thing remains woolier and wilder than the wax nose of philosophical hypotheses concerning Big questions (a wax nose that stretches from "absolute idealism" to "physicalism/epiphenomenalism") and that remains the view that one has ALL the "eternal" truths on one's side, religion (not that all religious people would express themselves in such a way, many would express their faith with far more acknowledgement of doubt and uncertainties).

Though some religionists do take the offense to such a degree that they proclaim "doubt" to be a "religion," or "agnosticism" is "just as dogmatic and believes it has all the answers," as if someone suffering doubts or acknowledging uncertainties concerning the Big Questions was expressing a brand new coherent philosophy and/or religion. [sic]

That kind of "come back" that attacks "doubts" and "uncertainties" (sometimes going to the extreme of even blaming such things on "Satan") might even appear like "true logic" to the people saying such a thing, just as it appears equally true to such folks that a liberal democratic form of government exists merely so that they can lobby to democratically elect Jesus to be their new sovereign eternal king with no need of future elections.

So I suspect that more agnosticism in matters of philosophy and religion couldn't hurt. (Speaking of which, why use the word "God" or "Jesus" or "Allah" or "Amidha Buddha?" Why not pray to "whatever is good and loving and kind and wise and also has a sense of humor?" There's an ancient Greek prayer by a philosopher that went something along those very lines:

May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.
May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil against me, may I escape without the need of hurting him.
May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good.
May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none.
When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends.
May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another.
May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to all who are in want.
May I never fail a friend in danger.
May I respect myself.
May I always keep tame that which rages within me.
May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.

The Prayer of Eusebius, written by a 1st-century pagan, as quoted in Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion. (Incorrectly attributed on the web to a 3rd-century Christian also named “Eusebius,” but this was a 1st-century pagan philosopher’s prayer. See Professor Murray’s book.)

Lastly I admit to longing for the day when there are fewer "inerrantists" vying with each other over the "inerrant" meaning of some verse in the Bible or the Koran or in other written sources of their religious tradition, and fewer believers in "papal infallibility" as well. (Papal infallibility is a recent doctrine, going back to the mid-1800s, which also was a time when the REACTION against "modern" religious ideas began taking root that calcified to the popularity of Biblical "inerrancy" among conservative Protestants. So "infallibility" and "inerrancy" apparently both arose in reaction to modern day doubts and questions, to people willing to ask more questions. And now we have a culture war going on between the questioners who want to dive into topics and keep asking questions, and the inerrantists/inffalibilists on the other hand, who want their questions answered quickly and easily and right from the start by the Pope or a paper-Pope. Where indeed will it all end?

Anonymous said...

That, Ed, was a disgracefully long and off-topic post.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, Ed. I did have you in mind when I was talking about long and off-topic posts. Work on it.
Also, there is nothing wrong with pointing out the limits ofour philosophical understanding. But I think you are selective in your skepticism about arguments. When someone is getting philosophical results that tend to support the God of Evangelical Christianity, you point out the limits of philosophy. When someone is showing the limits of philosophical argumentation in showing that there is too much evil in the world for God to exist, you aren't so pleased.
I am not a philosophical skeptic, but skepticism is an honorable philosophical tradition so long as it is applied consistently. If it is not, it is simply a tool for special pleading.

Victor Reppert said...

Thinking human said: Like many others here, I am motivated by my desire to "save" people from what I consider false and harmful beliefs.

VR: Hey! I thought you atheists weren't trying to convert anybody.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ed, I really hope that comment was a joke!