Friday, January 18, 2013

FacePlant of the Day - Debunking Christianity: On Justifying the Use of Ridicule and Mockery

John Loftus has finally posted an article that I have to largely agree is true. We are truly living in an age of miracles.

Hey, I KNOW Christians don't like being mocked. I get that. So it's no surprise they would object to it by saying it doesn't cause them to change their minds, that it makes them dig their heels in deeper, and that it just makes them think less of the one doing the mocking. You would expect them to say this. The facts however are different. Ridicule and mockery have been very effective in any cultural war and they will forever be effective and necessary.

Just who does like to be mocked? I don't think anyone enjoys it. Loftus surely doesn't like being mocked. For example he doesn't like the site Debunking Loftus: Setting John Straight and apparently does not like the blog's tag line which is the title of the blog's corresponding book The Cowboy that Wasn't There.
Loftus is correct that ridicule and mockery are indeed effective and relevant tools for communication. However it is important that it just can't be biting or offensive or provocative. It must be true and the motives behind it must be true.

There have been some very famous satires in history. Here are four important ones:

1) Aristophanes's Greek comedy The Clouds, portrays Socrates as a buffoon and a deceiver of the young. It was the first comedy "of ideas" and was a contributing factor in the trial and death of Socrates.

2) In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, where he mocks the English mistreatment of the Irish poor (a subject dear to my heart being of Irish descent). Swift suggests the solution for the impoverished Irish was to sell their children as food to the rich.

3) In 1759 Voltaire's Candide effectively mocked Leibniz's theodicy that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."

4) Thomas Taylor wrote a satire of Mary Wollstonecraft's book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her book was the first defense of women's rights in Western English literature. She attacked gender oppression and argued for equal educational opportunities, justice, and equality for all humanity. Taylor mocked her ideas with A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, arguing that if women have rights, then animals also have rights, but that was preposterous to him and to his readers at the time. The irony of Taylor's satire is that he provided some of the first arguments for animal rights that are used today (by those who also condemn his sexism).

I''d like to add a fifth example. Jesus uses mockery to drive home his message also. In fact the Bible has many examples.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. - Matthew 23:23-25
Now, does anyone think these satires convinced the people who disagreed, the ones who made the case that was being mocked by these satires? I highly doubt it. I doubt they changed any minds among the ones who thought differently, who knew Socrates personally, who considered the Irish to be garbage, who agreed with Leibniz, or thought women were second rate human beings. These people cannot be convinced by satire, so satire is not written to change their minds. It's written to marginalize them by laughing at them. It persuades people who don't yet have a settled opinion on the issue, in part by using social pressure. No one wants to be a laughingstock. No one wants to be the butt of a joke. If people are laughing at a particular view it pressures the undecided to distance themselves from it. It draws a line in the sand, so to speak. It can also silence people who think otherwise, for they won't want to speak up in a class on behalf of something most others will laugh at.

I think this underscores the motivations between  non-believers using satire and ridicule and the motivations between believers using them. When a believer uses them satire it is to literally change others' minds not to shame intractable people into silence or scare those on the fence to side with you. If you have to do that, you don't have good arguments. You are just a a mean bully. 

Isn't using laughter an informal fallacy known as Appealing to Ridicule? It sure is. Shouldn't all intelligent people denounce using an informal fallacy then? Shouldn't they instead take the moral and intellectual high ground? No, not at all. In some ways we just cannot help ourselves since some ideas seem that preposterous. When something cannot be taken seriously it deserves our laughter. We all do it, all of us. Should we hide our laughter so as not to offend? I think not. It's a way to "come out of the closet," so to speak, to let others know they will be laughed at if they espouse certain ideas with a straight face. There is power in social pressure. There is power in numbers.

 I totally agree that preposterous ideas deserve laughter. However you should be able to demonstrate why an idea or concept deserves derision. Remember at one point s heliocentric solar system was laughed at and ridicule and some people changed their minds to deny it due to peer pressure. Truth and reality should always trump what you think about the ideas you consider. Preposterous ideas does no equate to false.

Ridicule also shows people just how bad we think the case is for something. The worse we think the case is then the more our ridicule shows people what we really think of it. Laughter is an entirely appropriate response to a person who suggests women are inferior to men. That's how bad the case is for sexism. And the more studied a person is on a particular issue then more force that person's ridicule has on others. I'm ridiculed almost daily by believers who are usually ignorant of their own ignorance, so their ridicule shouldn't matter at all. By contrast, I have spent 40 years studying Christianity and my conclusion is that believers who seek to defend it are worth being laughed at. I laugh almost daily when reading something written by one of the top Christian apologists. They remind me of the story of the emperor who has no clothes on, really. I'm not kidding. Been there done that myself. Now I'm wearing clothes. I'm never going back to that nutty nudist camp for the mentally challenged who are all infected with the same virus of the mind.

Truth is Loftus does not realize how naked he is. I keep finding his understand of theology, and what the Bible says lacking of knowledge. Either Loftus mocks what he does not know or he often lies about what Christians believe and what the the Bible says. 

The use of ridicule can be justified pragmatically. It works well under the right circumstances, depending on the issue and the potential effectiveness of using it. It is best used when the arguments are there to back it up, and when more people agree against the ideas that are being ridiculed. This is what Stephen Law, Richard Carrier and I are saying about the use of ridicule, and we have earned the right to use it because we have produced the arguments. That is, because we know Christianity is a delusion, and since deluded people cannot usually be argued out of their faith because they were never argued into it in the first place, the use of persuasion techniques like ridicule are rationally justifiable. So satire, ridicule and mockery are weapons that should be in our arsenal in this important cultural war of ideas.

I've seen Law's and Carrier's arguments and they are no better that Loftus' own. At the end of the day all ll they have is satire and mockery 

Human beings may be so bad at reasoning that persuasion is all that matters. We are not like Spock of Star Trek. Not one is. Far, far, from it. If this even has some modicum degree of truth to it, and I think it does, then that alone justifies the use of mockery. Christians, for instance, are not usually reasoned into their faith. They were persuaded into it. They were persuaded to believe by the circumstances of their upbringing and/or the likability of a significant person in their lives. Based on this human propensity of ours, mockery might actually be more effective than thought, for if they were persuaded into their faith then maybe they can also be persuaded out of it.

I think Loftus is speaking from experience. If you don't know God for yourself, then you were never really in Christianity and of course you can be persuaded out of it. Your realization just lines up with reality

Science is the only antidote to this propensity of ours, and science has spoken on matters of faith. Faith is an unreliable process for gaining knowledge. Therefore the Christian faith, qua faith, is a delusion for childish people. Doubt is the adult attitude. Ridicule is both helpful and necessary. Someday in the future people will treat Christianity just like all of the other dead gods and religions are treated today. We mock them. In the future, anyone who learns about Christianity in a history book will mock it like all the other dead religions.

Here is an example Loftus attempting to use ridicule to shock Christians to give up  on God.  He says that having faith is unreliable and childish. But having to read some of his blog posts, I know that he thinks faith is believing something that is not true despite the evidence. He is front loading a lot of presuppositions and assumptions about Biblical reliability and what evidence is. This is what I mean by Loftus not making a good argument. The way he defines "faith" is not the way the Bible defines "faith".

Nothing I've said should lead anyone to think all we need is mockery. Far from it. I will continue reasoning with believers as always. It's just that mockery is effective, necessary, and justifiable in this cultural war. It's one of the weapons we need to change the religious landscape, which is my goal.

I'm amazed that Loftus thinks what he does is "reasoning".

If you meet people who think otherwise then send them here to discuss it.

So do mockery , ridicule, and satire figure into Christianity? Some say that it doesn't. But that can't be true because God uses it in the Bible. It's not immoral or wrong if you are going to do it right.  How do you know? 

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. - 1 Peter 3:13-17

You can use ridicule and mockery and still use gentleness and respect - with God's help. Which explains why Loftus cannot do so.

Debunking Christianity: On Justifying the Use of Ridicule and Mockery
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Austin Dacey’s Debate with WLC

I wanted to do a follow up post on the Debate between Dr Austin Dacey and Dr William Lane Craig. I wrote a post based on Dr Dacey's opening statement and Jeffery Jay Lowder responded. Here is my response to his his blog post.

What had happen' was.....: The Secular Outpost: Marcus McElhaney on Austin Dacey’s Debate with WLC

Lowder wrote:

Since I believe Dacey’s debate with Craig is one of the better debate performances by an atheist, this caught my eye.

I haven't been able to get this particular comment out of my mind because having seen the whole debate I have no idea why Lowder would come to that conclusion.

I did not think that Dacey's performance was all that great. The best I could say is that it wasn't a complete FacePlant. At least he did better than Sam Harris. I wanted to post the entire debate so that others can make up their own minds. I think that one of the things Dacey said that was particular telling is that he kept saying that he and other atheist are reasonable and God should make Himself known in a way for reasonable people. The issue I have is that the Bible correctly shows us that no one is so reasonable our rational.

 The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. - Proverbs 4:19

And without God we are all wicked and would not choose to believe God or serve Him despite that our lives and existence depend on God.

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” - John 6:34-51
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Debunking Christianity: Craig, the Kalam, and Quantum Indeterminacy

So what happens when Physics points to evidence that the Universe - time and space - has a beginning? People who desire to suppress the knowledge of God available to them come up with videos like the following.

They also write articles like Jonathan Pierce's article:
Debunking Christianity: Craig, the Kalam, and Quantum Indeterminacy

They cannot accept that the universe (as we know it)  is eternal. They are left with trying to show that quantum mechanics allows for material objects to pop into existence out of nothing. Even if we can show that things that "banged" during the "Big Bang" popped into existence due to the rules of Quantum Mechanics, it still leads to more questions than answers. If we ever do figure out the "how?" it tells us nothing about "why?" It does not mean that there is no God. It tells us how God did it.

The thing is that  I do disagree with Dr William Lane Craig on a few things. Refuting him doesn't refute God. Craig's critics fail to refute him but that doesn't mean he's right about everything he says.  For example. I agree with the video that Craig is wrong about in his philosophical reasoning against infinities, but we don't need that to establish that the universe has beginning.

Old Testament & the New Atheists: Peter J. Williams - Apologetics 315

Here is a great lecture by Peter J Williams against the arguments of the "New Atheists" regarding the Old Testament.

Old Testament & the New Atheists: Peter J. Williams - Apologetics 315
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Apologist Interview: Frank Turek - Apologetics 315

Brian Auten recently posted his new interview with Frank Turek. I really enjoyed it. It has a lot to learn from. The only part that I have issue with his Dr Turek's ideas about human free will. I would like to see Dr Turek debate a reformed scholar one day. However, Turek is well equipped for the ministry that God has for him.  Take a listen.

Apologist Interview: Frank Turek - Apologetics 315
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Answering Muslims: George Washington and Robert Spencer Slam Huffington Post's Muhammad Comparison!

Recently the Huffington Post published an article suggesting that Muhammad has many similarities to George Washington! What?! Really?!  Robert Spencer and David Wood humorously skewer the article using history, the Qur'an, Hadiths, and common sense. Take a look. The level of ignorance that it would take to make such arguments that this article is asserting.

Answering Muslims: George Washington and Robert Spencer Slam Huffington Post's Muhammad Comparison!
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