David Robertson & I cross swords again

Oh dear! A whole month and no posts? even by my lackadaisicle standards, that’s pretty poor. So I’m going to use the cheat’s way out & reproduce the points I have raised on DR’s own “weeflea” blog – it’s on WordPress. DR has posted a defence of his conduct during the debate. If you want to read what he says in full then here is a link.

1) He was continually evasive. For example when I asked him if creation was not creation he did not answer but responded, “This is a veiled argument from ignorance fallacy…”. As more than one person pointed out Dillahunty forgets a basic principle of logic, the law of the excluded middle. He also seemed to miss the fact that ‘we don’t know’ can apply to the three I presented – i.e. all three are logically possible but ‘’we don’t know’. However once you start saying there might be another one that we don’t know then you have entered into the surreal never-ending world of Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’!

I’m not sure why you think that Matt hadn’t considered that “I don’t know” could apply to all three of your options. I would say that that was exactly his point. Whether there three options or thirty three, you don’t know which, if any of them, is correct.

People who have said that Matt breached the law of excluded middle are wrong and are demonstrating that they do not fully understand the law. For the law to operate you have to have just two mutually exclusive propositions: P or ~P. There is no middle ground. You have excluded it. But where you are offering three options, you accept that there is a middle ground of some sort! Here is a link to a site which explains it.

You can argue that you have exhausted the possible options, but that would be a different argument from the law of excluded middle.

BTW Donald Rumsfeld’s much maligned “unknown unknowns” were not surreal, but were a perfectly coherent and logical analysis of the state of human knowledge. Here is a link.

2) He was unscientific –

scientists…..take the best possible explanation and work on that premise – until it is falsified or a better one comes along. According to Matt they are fallacious and unsceptical!

The operative phrase in Matt’s assertion is “until there’s enough evidence for it”. Scientists do not work on the premise of any explanation until there is enough evidence supporting it for it to be accepted as a theory rather than a hypothesis. Here is a link to explain.

3) He contradicted himself – He denied that he had a pre-supposition that there was no God. And then denied that he allowed for the possibility of God. Again using simple logic, anyone who does not allow for the possibility of God is presupposing there is no God.

As he pointed out, Matt could hardly be a presuppositionalist if he started from the supposition that there was a God and only later came to the view that there was no evidence of God’s existence.

4) He was all over the place on morality.

I asked him “So you think that killing the child in the womb is against the well being of the child, but you are for that?” To which his response was “Did I say I was for it”. But he had just said I am not against it….. But when someone tells me I am not against it, I assume that they are then for it.

Now, David, there’s your trouble in a nutshell. This is called “The false dichotomy fallacy”. Another link.

I am pro-choice. I am not pro-abortion. The two things are completely different. My view is that every medical abortion takes place where something has already gone wrong and a woman is in a situation (pregnant) that she did not wish to be in. It would be preferable that she never got into the situation in the first place and did not need the abortion. So, to that extent you could say I am anti-abortion. However, I support the right of every woman to decide whether or not she should allow the pregnancy to continue. If she wants it to, that’s fine. I am against denying her the right to end the pregnancy for the same reason that I am against the practice in China of compelling her to have an abortion. Her body, her choice.

To be fair to you, Matt never managed to develop his pro-choice argument, so it is understandable that you would think he was contradicting himself. Because I’ve heard what he has to say on abortion before, I knew that he was maintaining a stance, which while you may disagree with it, is certainly not in conflict with his “well-being” argument. Sorry, I couldn’t get a link which worked but it was covered in the Atheist Experience show 30/01/14. Google “Matt Dillahunty abortion” if you want to find out what his actual position is.

5) He misplayed the Hitler card –

…..Matt contradicting himself again. Having played the Hitler was a Christian card; he then stated, “ I don’t decide. I don’t get to decide who is or isn’t a true Christian and I’m certainly not going to get into a battle of determining that because I don’t see that anyone gets to decide who is or isn’t a true Christian.”

This is a bit rich, coming from you. You said that this was your speciality area. You said that you were able to definitively reject assertion that Hitler was a Christian because you’d “read all of Hitler’s private diaries that we’ve been able to get, even the fake ones.” As has been pointed out to you in a previous post, there are no private diaries, apart from fake ones! You claim that what you meant was you’d read a lot about Hitler, his speeches etc. So you opened your mouth to tell us about how you’d studied Hitler’s public speeches and somehow all this stuff about his private diaries came pouring out instead, did it David? Including the bit about “even the fake ones” implying that there was any other sort?

6) Matt showed a lack of critical awareness – He said he was prepared just to accept what people say and how they self-identify. At best that is naïve. At worst it was dishonest. Would I accept the pleas of the BNP leader who says he is not a racist, or Putin who identifies himself as a paragon of Russian Orthodoxy? Does Matt think that President Obama is a committed Christian?

Why shouldn’t Matt believe that President Obama is a committed Christian? You see it is exactly this sort of comment that convinces people like me that there is absolutely no point in trying to play the internal Christian game of who is or isn’t a “real” Christian.

Matt never said that we had to accept all people’s self-descriptions. His point was that there is no single accepted standard of what is or is not a true Christian. True Christianity is claimed by Southern Baptists, the Catholic Church, The Church of England, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calvinists, the Children of God and others too numerous to mention. All of them would claim that they meet your “example of Jesus” test. The rest of us are not going to be dragged into your internal family disputes. From our POV a Christian is someone who says that they believe in and follow Jesus. End of.

7) He again showed his illogicality when he accused me of moral relativism just because I asked him to consider things from a different perspective….

8) He spoke about what good is. And evil. And yet he was unable to define it other than saying that ‘we’ define it…

There was more. After spending so long talking about morality and the superiority of secular morality Matt, as the leader of the Atheist experience, then declared “atheism is merely a position on the existence of God. It doesn’t say anything at all about morality”. One wonders why we then spent so much time talking about it?

I don’t think that you were appealing to moral relativism. I think that Matt misunderstood your point. But I don’t see why you think that Christianity could have made any difference to the belief that it was right to kill Jews. Christianity was compatible with hatred of Jews and a wish that they should die. In fact it was often a spur to it. See Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale and the stories about Little St Hugh of Lincoln.

The reason that you and Matt spent so long talking about morality was that you said that objective morality is incompatible with atheism and Matt was responding to that. If you want to understand why an atheist is not obliged to be a moral relativist, here is a link to an excellent article which puts it much better than I could ever hope to.

9) Matt argues against Christianity yet does not seem to have a grasp of what Christianity is.

Maybe there are two true Christians who have never done anything wrong, but being a Christian doesn’t preclude someone from doing something wrong, including murder, and in some cases, the beliefs in the Christian religion can encourage that.” This is a very confused statement. Is he defining a ‘true’ Christian as someone who never does anything wrong?

Obviously not. The statement is not confusing at all. “…being a Christian doesn’t preclude someone from doing something wrong….” To anyone who understands English, how could it be clearer that Matt is saying that a true Christian can do something wrong?

Christianity has absolutely encouraged slavery. How man atheists do you think there were in the slave owning states prior to the American Civil War? In “The rights & Duties of Masters” James Thornwell, a presbyterian minister said:

” The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders—they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins, on one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground—Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.

10) Matt showed a dangerous faith and naivety in the persuasive powers of his own position.

How is Christianity supposed to solve this? We all know that Christians have used the Bible to argue for slavery and against slavery, for women’s rights and against women’s rights, for gay rights and against gay rights, for capital punishment and against capital punishment, for war and against war and so on so forth. When your argument based on the “obvious” lead given by Jesus’ example fails to convince your Christian opponent, what’s your plan B?

11 Back to the avoidance again. Matt got upset when I quoted Bertrand Russell at him. Did he agree that Dachau was wrong is a fact? His response – I don’t know.. He needed to pause to think. Really? Was nobody else upset that one of the leading atheists in the US needed to think about whether the Holocaust was wrong is a fact?.

David, this is obviously a pretext. How do I know? Because as you are so fond of saying: “A quote without a context is just a pretext” and this was not even a direct quote. It was a quote of a quote.

You did not ask him if Dachau was wrong. You asked him if what somebody else quoted somebody else as saying about whether or not its wrongness was a fact was something he agreed with. I think anybody confronted with that cumbersome and overly complicated way of looking at the question would have needed to pause to unpick what they were being asked to agree (or disagree) with. I have heard the quote before. But even being familiar with it, if I were asked “Do you agree” I would not know how to answer because the question is not clear. I know that I think that it is a fact that the murder of the Jews in the concentration camps was wrong. But do I agree with Russell? Well, it would all depend o the context in which Russell said that and what he meant by it. Whilst I think the wrongness of the Holocaust is a fact, I do not think it is the same type of fact as, say, gravity. Maybe that was what Russell meant? IDK. But why involve Russell anyway? If you want to know whether Matt thinks that what happened in Dachau is wrong as a matter of fact, why not simply ask him?

12) Matt was wrong about the biblical definition of faith. He sought to superimpose the atheist definition and misquoted Hebrews 11:1 – The idea of faith based on reason is one that is patently absurd because that puts faith in the position of I believe based on reason.

This is where I believe you crossed a line. Your snide reference to Matt’s nationality was quite simply racist. The fact that Matt happens to be white and from a First World country does not make it less so. It was utterly shameful. And don’t even try and pretend is was all in the spirit of good humoured banter.

What is the “atheist definition” of faith? You said “Faith is based upon reason and evidence.” But earlier you said that Matt had more faith than you. So are you saying that Matt had more evidence for his atheism than you had for your Christianity?

Part two to follow.


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