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Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Every Monday I listen to the previous Sunday’s broadcast of The Atheist Experience.  And generally the show is a lot of fun, lots of promotion of critical thinking and jousting with theists.  My favorite host is Tracie Harris, who just hits it out of the park, and it’s pretty satisfying when Matt Dillahunty hangs up on an annoying troll.  But lately I have been getting frustrated when some apologist calls in with their favorite clever twist on some tired old apologetic, and they proceed to argue in endless circles, because they just have to “get the atheist to admit that they are right”.  These calls tend to go on way too long and almost never accomplish anything.

I’ve realized that if I were hosting the show and one of these guys got going, that there is something specific I would want to say to them.  But since that’s unlikely ever to happen, I’ll just say it here instead:

“Hey Mr. Apologist!  Before you begin on whatever clever argument for god you are about to present, I need to ask you three background questions.  So, for the time being, instead of discussing it right away, we’re going to put your apologetic in a box.

This Box.

“We’re not going to unpack it just yet.  Not until I find out a few things about the person I am talking to.  First I need to ask you when you first started believing in god.”

(A typical theist will probably tell me that they have been a believer their whole lives, or from when they were very young.)

“OK.  And when did you first learn this argument you are about to present?”

(Let’s assume they tell us about the book they read in high school, or the class their church had recently, or some such.  It’s not likely that they learned a complicated argument in their earliest Sunday School classes.)

“All right.  And finally, suppose that your apologetics teacher (or Pope, or whoever is an authority for your sect) came to you and said ‘Dude, we found a flaw in this particular argument.  It doesn’t actually prove the thing it’s supposed to prove.  You have to stop using it.’  If that were to happen, would you still believe in god?  Would you have to reconsider anything about what you believe, or would you still believe exactly as you do now?”

(I would expect that a typical True Believer™ would declare that their faith would continue to be steadfast in that case.)

“OK, so let me review what we’ve learned about the argument in this box.

  1. It’s not what initially persuaded you to believe, because you didn’t have it at that time.
  2. It’s not what’s keeping you in your faith, because you would still be a believer even if you lost what’s in the box. 

SO, what that tells me is that we don’t actually need to open this box at all!  The question for callers is “Tell us what you believe and why.”  And we have just established that the argument in this box is not really part of your “why“.  So we can throw out this box unopened.  It’s not relevant.

“Here’s the box we ought to open up:

“What we should be talking about are the real reasons that you believe.   What initially persuaded you to start believing?  What things are so central to your beliefs that you would have to rethink your entire belief system if they were discredited?   I don’t know what’s in this box for you.  Maybe it’s things like ‘trust in your teachers,’ ‘personal experience,’ ‘clerical authority,’ or ‘biblical infallibility.’  Maybe it’s something else.  We won’t know until we start unpacking it.” Those are the interesting and useful discussions to have, not these circular apologetic word games.

If I ever were in the position similar to the hosts on TAE, I think that I would have to label some real boxes to use as visual aids.  Because, unless a caller says that their argument was specifically why they started believing, or that their faith would collapse without it, there’s no way that I would want to waste my energy listening to their endless philosophical wanking.  I have better things to do, like watching paint dry.

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Comments»

1. Steve Morris - June 9, 2017

Perhaps a more interesting discussion is to ask converts to religion what changed their mind. And then ask former believers who are now atheists what changed their mind. Collect together a set of such responses, and you have a guide to the factors that can modify religious belief.

Liked by 1 person

Ubi Dubium - June 9, 2017

I think, to continue my metaphor, that the thing that changed their mind is one of the things in their “box of actual reasons”. But they tend to throw a lot of apologetics in the way of getting to those things that really persuaded them.

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2. DesertAbba - June 9, 2017

Suh fun, Ubi! Thanks. Truth is that other than fun there will be no outcome as it is not possible to discuss ‘faith’ rationally. It is irrational by definition.

Liked by 1 person

Ubi Dubium - June 9, 2017

I think that we can have a rational discussion about “faith” as an idea. About when it’s appropriate to believe things, or whether “faith” is a virtue. But too many apologists are too wrapped up in their endless circles of sophistry to be willing really talk about this.

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3. Mechanicdude - June 12, 2017

Ubi- you can really write it down when you try, kudos to you. I personally am not sure that this discussion can properly take form unless the words, pain and suffering, are used frequently in the conversation. In my opinion this is why the conversation stalls and goes into a death spiral. Few people are willing to go there but that is where the problem hides I think. -MD

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4. Paul Douglas - June 14, 2017

Well put!

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