Is belief in God irrational? My soon-to-be-released debate with Chris Hallquist

Posted on 10/23/13 75 Comments

Back in the middle of September I received an email from Justin Schieber. (Yes, that Justin Schieber, aka the teen pop sensation of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast!) Justin was writing to invite me to debate Chris Hallquist who blogs as The Uncredible Hallq. In emulation of Schieber’s Reasonable Doubts debate with Max Andrews  the format would be as follows:

We start with Hallquist’s twenty minute opening statement. Hallquist then sends his statement to me and I then have a week to write a twenty minute opening statement in response (which, because it is written in direct response to Hallquist, doubles as a rebuttal). I send my response to Hallquist who then has a week to write a fifteen minute rebuttal. I then do a fifteen minute rebuttal. Then ten minute rebuttals. Then five minute closing statements.

I just finished my final closing statement about an hour ago and am now looking forward to Reasonable Doubts collating the dazzling results and making the whole audio debate available in a few weeks.

“But wait,” you ask, “what was the topic of debate?”

Um, it’s listed right there in the title. “Is belief in God irrational?”

Chris was arguing that belief in God is always irrational. I was arguing that Chris has failed to establish this.

Frankly, I think the thesis Chris chose to defend is absurdly strong and that it reveals more about Chris and his own prejudices than it does the (ir)rationality of theists.

In my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think I point out that people commonly invoke two strategies to explain the fact that other people disagree with them on important matters: moral deficiency or cognitive deficiency. That is, they will attribute disagreement to some moral problem in the individual (most baldly: that person is evil) or some cognitive problem (most baldly: that person is irrational).

The journey toward intellectual maturation includes the growing recognition that folks can disagree with us without being wicked or stupid. (Hopefully that doesn’t come as a surprise!)

In his book The Making of an Atheist Christian theist James Spiegel attempts to explain all instances of atheistic belief with respect to evil or wickedness. This is an absurd mode of argumentation and I argued as much in my review of the book. Sadly, you can still find Christians like Spiegel who are willing to issue indefensible blanket declarations that all atheism is attributable to malevolent dispositions.

No less absurd or ignorant is the supposition that all belief that there is a God can be dismissed on equally sweeping grounds, in this case that of cognitive deficiency (i.e. irrationality). And I believe that lesson comes through loud and clear in the debate.

So whether you’re an atheist or a theist, a Republican or a Democrat, an anarchist or an authoritarian, a Platonist or a nominalist, a deontologist or a utilitarian, or whatever, please keep the following in mind:

While it may be tempting to engage in sweeping dismissals of well established dissenting opinions with recourse to moral or cognitive deficiency, doing so rarely if ever serves the cause of truth.

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  • Jeff

    I realize that you and Hallquist have a little bit of a history, and, obviously, I haven’t heard how he argues his case in this debate, nor do I know that much about him in general. But to argue that a belief is irrational is certainly not to dismiss holders of that belief as stupid.

    For example, isn’t the goal of Plantinga’s EAAN precisely to demonstrate that belief in naturalism coupled with belief in evolutionary biology is irrational? Of course, Plantinga doesn’t appear to think that his EAAN is so obvious and successful an argument that dissenters are necessarily stupid. Likewise, if theism is ultimately incoherent or irrational for some other reason, it still wouldn’t be the case that theists are necessarily stupid.

    Now, perhaps Hallquist comes out and plainly says or strongly implies that theists are necessarily stupid. But, without having yet heard this debate, your objection here seems to me to be off the mark.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Jeff, I was speaking colloquially when I said people can disagree with us without being stupid or evil.

      • David_Evans

        Kepler believed in astrology. Newton believed in alchemy and believed he could predict the end of the world. Both men spent many years thinking about those issues. Would it be outrageous to say their beliefs were irrational?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          It’s not obviously outrageous. But it also isn’t obviously true. Just because you and I find astrology and alchemy to be failed hypotheses doesn’t mean it was irrational for a couple seventeenth century scientists to accept these claims. So if you do want to argue they were irrational you’d have to do your homework by articulating a plausible definition of rationality and then demonstrating how the belief they held (and the way they held it) would count as irrational with respect to the definition you provided.

          No doubt Newton and Kepler were occasionally irrational. So are Randal, David and Chris. Nobody is perfectly rational all the time. But if you want to argue that a belief held by billions of people is always irrational, the burden of proof is on you to establish your case.

          • David_Evans

            Many millions of people currently believe in astrology. Does that fact create a greater burden of proof on me, should I wish to argue that the belief is irrational, than if the number were smaller?

            • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

              Yes, because these people had not the same background knowledge.

              For the same reason, I find it completely silly to mock the ancient Greeks because they thought the earth was flat.

              • Rob Gressis

                Did the Greeks think that? I thought Archimedes proved that the earth was round. Maybe the other Greeks weren’t convinced, though? (Or maybe I’m wrong about Archimedes?)

                • Kerk

                  As far as I know, the majority of the Greeks indeed believed that the Earth was flat. Strict minority of philosophers thought otherwise.

                  Incidentally, You must have read Plato’s Timaeus. There Plato says, “The world is spherical and it rotates.” Go figure whether he meant the Earth or the Universe.

              • David_Evans

                I’m not mocking anyone. And in this post I’m talking about current believers with access, in principle, to the same background knowledge as me.

                • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

                  Then I agree with you!

                  2013/10/24 Disqus

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              How do you propose to argue that it is irrational for all people to believe in astrology? I have no idea how you might aim to make such an extraordinarily ambitious argument, but perhaps I’m missing something.

              • David_Evans

                Firstly, is Hallquist arguing that it is irrational for all people to believe in God? That would be ambitious of him. It’s possible for people to have evidence which makes it rational for them to believe something that others, with better evidence, can see is false.

                Re: astrology, I would argue that:

                1 There are several inconsistent systems of astrology, each believed in by millions of people.

                2 Western astrology implies that people born at the same time, even at different locations, should have character traits in common. My same-birthday celebrities include Chuck Norris (actor), Dean Torrence (singer) and David Rabe (playwright). I regard Chuck Norris as my polar opposite in almost every request, and I can’t see myself as a successful singer or actor – too shy. Playwright? just possibly, but I have never even tried to write any sort of fiction.

                I believe an ancient Greek argued against astrology on this ground, but I can’t find the reference.

                3 Astrologers have proved unable to do what their theory implies – that they should be able to identify people from their birth data with more than chance success.

                Note: my post referred to people who currently believe in astrology. Most of those people (in the West, at least) have access to Google or to any of the books setting out these facts, or know someone who has. If they have not done the minimal checking that I have just done, I would say their beliefs are indeed irrationally held.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  “Firstly, is Hallquist arguing that it is irrational for all people to believe in God?”

                  Yes. And you’re right. That IS ambitious.

                  As for your astrology comments, you are providing evidence that astrology is false. But I don’t see you getting anywhere in the vicinity of establishing that it is irrational for all people.

                  Picture a gypsy named “Stardust” who is raised by her parents who are astrologers by trade. Do you have an argument to establish, sight unseen, that Stardust is irrational? That’s the point at issue here.

                  Of course I agree with you that astrology is false and a waste of time. But my belief and knowledge doesn’t automatically impugn the rationality of every astrologer.

                  • David_Evans

                    Let me repeat: It’s possible for people to have evidence which makes it rational for them to believe something that others, with better evidence, can see is false. That implies that Stardust is not necessarily irrational, and I have no ambition to establish that she is. As to Hallquist, I think I should study his actual arguments before commenting further.

              • David_Evans

                PS Jeane Dixon used to be quoted as a successful astronomer, for having (it was said) predicted the assassination of President Kennedy. This link
                http://www.skepdic.com/dixon.html
                shows that her prediction was much less impressive than it sounds, and that she has a long list of failed predictions (including that JFK would not be President). There is much more such evidence out there for those who want to look.

                • rob

                  astrologer

                  • David_Evans

                    Thanks

          • john (adj)

            So are you arguing for some sort of rational relativism?

            • Rob Gressis

              I doubt he’s doing that. Imagine you’re a utilitarian: you think that you ought to do what you can to bring about the greatest amount of happiness. However, someone who doesn’t do that in a particular situation didn’t necessarily do anything immoral; it depends on what information was available to her before she acted.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Not relativism about principles of rationality, but yes, relativism about the rationality of specific beliefs given that the rationality of specific beliefs is (almost) always context-dependent.

              Is it rational to believe Toronto has a larger population than New York? That depends. To whom has this belief been presented for consideration and under what circumstances?

              • AdamHazzard

                Is it rational to believe Toronto has a larger population than New York? That depends. To whom has this belief been presented for consideration and under what circumstances?

                Sure, of course. So the relevant question would be, “In light of the best current knowledge, is it rational to believe Toronto has a larger population than New York?”

                In light of the best current arguments and evidence, is it rational to believe a god exists? This, I think, is where you and Chris disagree, and this, I think, is a more productive question than whether Christians themselves are in some global sense “rational.”

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Adam, that wasn’t the topic of debate. What is more, what you’ve proposed is a chimera. I’ve decided to unpack that point in a subsequent post, perhaps later today.

                  Finally, nobody is arguing about whether Christians are rational in a “global sense” (whatever that might mean). The question is whether theists are all irrational qua theism. Chris said yes, I said no.

      • Jeff

        I’m just saying that for someone like myself, who hasn’t heard the debate yet and who has very little familiarity with Hallquist, I’m going to assume in a formal debate such as this that he will be using the term “irrational” in a narrow technical sense, rather than in the sense of a “broad-based attack on their very rationality and intellectual integrity.” Now, maybe Hallquist is launching such an attack, but you haven’t provided any excerpts from or summary of his argument, so I’m not really sure what to make of your article here.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “I’m not really sure what to make of your article here.”

          It’s all right there in the last sentence. That seems quite clear to me.

          • Jeff

            The summary sentence of your article is clear enough. But what isn’t clear to me is why you’ve made Hallquist your whipping boy. You’ve insinuated here that he’s an intellectually immature asshole (and that seems to be the basic point of all your Hallquist articles). Now, for all I know, perhaps that is the case. But the only support you’re giving here for your charge is that he has chosen to argue in the affirmative that belief in God is irrational. It seems that in your view, only an intellectually immature asshole would argue for such a thing. Hmm, really? If you want to convince me that Hallquist is thus guilty, you have to provide at least some sort of indication about how he argues his case. Does he argue that theists are always irrational, “sight unseen,” re: their theism? Does he argue that continued theistic belief is irrational “in light of” certain considerations which he presents? Does he disagree with your position that testimony can serve to rationally justify theism? Or what?

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “But what isn’t clear to me is why you’ve made Hallquist your whipping boy. You’ve insinuated here that he’s an intellectually immature asshole”

              I’d appreciate it if you would restrain yourself from attempting to read between the lines to find what you believe I “insinuated” and instead focus on what I wrote.

              • Jeff

                Huh? You talked about his prejudices, his intellectual (im)maturity, and his absurd and ignorant views. I’m still waiting for you to provide some sort of support for these serious charges.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  I never used your crude language and everything I did say was sourced in critical analysis. Chris argues that all theists are irrational qua theism. I pointed out that this entails, among other things, that famous academic theistic philosophers of religion are irrational about the belief they’ve spent their careers reflecting on. That is an extraordinary claim and it bears an extraordinary burden of proof. Instead of addressing that point, you’ve chosen to go off on a rabbit trail by speculating on what I’ve insinuated.

                  So again, I ask you to please address what I’ve written rather than attributing to me your crude “insinuations”.

                  • Jeff

                    Randal, I don’t think this conversation (and I don’t think it’s a rabbit trail–whether or not you used my “crude” language, you certainly leveled very serious charges against Hallquist) can go any further if you won’t provide some sort of summary of Hallquist’s presentation.

                    • Jeff

                      You said, in an earlier comment, that Hallquist has issued a “broad-based attack on [all theists'] very rationality and intellectual integrity.” But the only support you’ve given for this is that he argues in the affirmative in this debate (the five-word topic of which seems to me to imply nothing about such a “broad-based attack.”) Surely you’re not going to level such serious charges against Hallquist without going into more detail re: his presentation?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      I didn’t “level very serious charges against Hallquist”. I pointed out that his claim that all theists are irrational qua theism is an extraordinary claim with an extraordinary burden of proof.

                    • Jeff

                      You certainly did level serious charges against him, which went far beyond a reminder that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary (argument/)evidence.”

                      Anyway, it’s not clear to me, from the mere topic of the debate, what he’s claiming. Plantinga does argue, does he not, that naturalism is irrational in light of his EAAN? So what is it about Hallquist’s presentation which renders it so objectionable?

                    • Jeff

                      Randal?

      • Rob Gressis

        Hi Randal,

        What do you think — do you think that Plantinga attributes irrationality to all atheists, or do you think he thinks that, in light of the EAAN, it’s irrational to be an atheist? But then what does Plantinga think of those atheists, like Fodor and Sosa, who are equally respectable philosophers, but who find the EAAN wanting? Do you think Plantinga thinks they’re irrational, or not? And if so, is that arrogant of him?

        It might help also to note that sometimes you can hold attribute irrationality to people with a greater or less degree of confidence. For instance, perhaps Plantinga holds that Fodor is irrational in holding on to his atheism, but that Plantinga isn’t very confident about this attribution. By contrast, Plantinga may be significantly more confident that anyone who still believes the logical version of the PoE works is irrational, and he holds this belief with a greater degree of confidence. If so, perhaps you object to the confidence with which Hallquist attributes irrationality to theists? (Keep in mind, though, that Hallquist studied at Notre Dame. I would imagine he argued with van Inwagen, Plantinga, and the like, and simply found them unable to keep up with him. Perhaps he’s wrong about that, or perhaps he had a different reason for dismissing them, but I’m guessing that it’s his encounter with the Notre Dame theists that moved him to be even more confident in dismissing theism.)

        • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

          What do you think — do you think that Plantinga attributes irrationality to all atheists, or do you think he thinks that, in light of the EAAN, it’s irrational to be an atheist?

          Plantinga’s target with the EAAN is naturalists, not atheists. You can be an atheist and a non-naturalist.

          • Rob Gressis

            Good point. OK, how about this:

            Hi Randal,

            What do you think — do you think that Plantinga attributes irrationality to all naturalists, or do you think he thinks that, *in light of the EAAN*, it’s irrational to be a naturalist? But then what does Plantinga think of those naturalists, like Fodor and Sosa, who are equally respectable philosophers, but who find the EAAN wanting? Do you think Plantinga thinks they’re irrational, or not? And if so, is that arrogant of him?

            It might help also to note that sometimes you can attribute irrationality to people with a greater or less degree of confidence. For instance, perhaps Plantinga holds that Fodor is irrational in holding
            on to his naturalism, but that Plantinga isn’t very confident about this attribution. By contrast, Plantinga may be significantly more confident
            that anyone who still believes the logical version of the PoE works is irrational, and he holds this belief with a greater degree of confidence. If so, perhaps you object to the confidence with which Hallquist attributes irrationality to theists? (Keep in mind, though, that Hallquist studied at Notre Dame. I would imagine he argued with van Inwagen, Plantinga, and the like, and simply found them unable to keep up with him. Perhaps he’s wrong about that, or perhaps he had a different reason for dismissing them, but I’m guessing that it’s his encounter with the Notre Dame theists that moved him to be even more confident in dismissing theism.)

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Jones tells Jones Jr. “naturalism is true” and Junior comes to believe naturalism is true based on his father’s (credible) testimony. I see no problem with viewing Junior’s belief as rational absent defeaters.

              But does he become irrational once the light of the EAAN is cast on his belief? Maybe, maybe not. Life is full of conundrums and we can rationally maintain many beliefs despite unresolved conundrums. How is God one and three? How does unguided evolution produce truth-producing faculties? How do universals become present in concrete particulars? How is it that I have free will?

              If we start stamping “irrational” on every belief maintained despite an unresolved conundrum, I suspect we’re all in trouble.

              • Rob Gressis

                I completely agree with you, Randal. So does van Inwagen, I think. But I wonder if Plantinga does.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “perhaps you object to the confidence with which Hallquist attributes irrationality to theists?”

          Certainly confident belief in the conviction that theists are all irrational (qua theism) is more troubling than tentative belief that theists are all irrational (qua theism). That’s one reason I’m the “tentative” apologist instead of the “supremely confident” apologist. (The other main reason is because tentativeness in style is more winsome than supreme confidence.)

          “Keep in mind, though, that Hallquist studied at Notre Dame. I would imagine he argued with van Inwagen, Plantinga, and the like, and simply found them unable to keep up with him.”

          Who knows? But that sounds a bit like “Why did I stop taking guitar lessons from Eddie Van Halen? The dude couldn’t keep up with me.”

          • Rob Gressis

            I probably shouldn’t have used the locution “couldn’t keep up with him”; I probably should have said that he found their arguments wanting, and obviously so. But who knows? You’d have to ask Chris.

            That said, Notre Dame theists play defense more than offense. They seem to focus more on showing themselves not to be irrational, rather than trying to argue that everyone has strong reason to be a theist. I can see how this may leave one with the impression, “these guys just want to be able to keep believing what they’ve been raised to believe” rather than “these guys believe things because of the evidence”. Maybe if Hallquist had studied at Baylor, he would have developed a better impression of theism. (Or maybe a worse one!)

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        Randal, there’s nothing cognitively deficient about irrationality. Indeed as Robert Todd Carroll points out, there are often situations in which thinking rationally is not desirable. We humans also tend to behave and form beliefs for irrational reasons; it’s just an unfortunate side-effect of how our brains work.

        But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with delineating any belief or, for that matter, a broad set of beliefs, as fundamentally irrational. Conspiracy theories, cryptozoology and naturopathy would all fit the bill. Surely those who argue for them may sound convincing to some, and some of their arguments may seem quite sophisticated. But the overwhelming evidence is that they’re usually dead wrong and, given the availability of the relevant evidence and their failure to assess it properly, irrational in that regard.

        I qualify this by pointing out I’ve not heard this debate, but having read Chris for many years I’m extremely skeptical that he does anything but argue that theism, even if nuanced philosophy can sometimes give it a veneer of rationality, is nonetheless a fundamentally irrational set of beliefs.

        • Rob Gressis

          The fact that irrationality can be practically beneficial doesn’t mean that it’s not cognitively deficient.

          As for delineating any belief or set of beliefs as irrational, it can be a bit presumptuous, no? What if you haven’t examined those beliefs very closely?

          By the way, Mike, what do you think of philosophers like Mike Almeida, Alexander Pruss, Trent Doughtery, Robert M. Adams, Marilyn Adams, Richard Swinburne, etc.? I take it you think they’re all irrational?

          • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

            I think there’s an important distinction between saying that someone holds a belief that is irrational, and saying that a person is irrational. I don’t presume to speak for Chris, but I’d assume he’s likely arguing the former and not the latter.

            I do not think this is a trivial distinction, because someone can apply the principles of reason to the best of their ability and still be in error. Parapsychologists are often very meticulous in their methods and studies, but it doesn’t change the irrationality of their core belief. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that one can attempt to hold a belief rationally and fail than to state that someone is categorically irrational. It’s also non-trivial because nobody, ever, is wholly rational.

            As an analogy, let’s take someone in antiquity who thinks the Earth is flat. It may be that given the available evidence it appears rational to believe it is so. However, that is not the case. To believe the Earth is flat – even in antiquity, when Eratosthenes was able to calculate the circumference of the Earth with simple tools and his feet – requires a flawed methodology of inquiry, including but not limited to a failure to seek falsifiable evidence.

            So yeah, assuming I’m correct about Chris, I’d agree with him that theism is irrational, no different than parapsychology or phrenology. But I think Chris would also agree that theists who think they are holding theism rationally are sincerely mistaken and have simply failed to properly evaluate the evidence, not that they are suffering from some ‘cognitive deficiency’, whatever that is supposed to mean.

            If Randal took to defending the latter idea and not the former, I’m inclined to suspect this will be another boring debate in which the interlocutors operate from completely different assumptions and just talk past each other.

            • Rob Gressis

              Hi Mike,

              OK, we can make the distinction between saying “theism is irrational” and “All theists are irrational”. Perhaps Chris only intends the former and not the latter. That said, regarding the irrationality of the ancient Greeks, I don’t have the same intuition you do; that is, I don’t think they were irrational for holding the earth to be flat. After all, it really looked flat. Now, the fact that Eratosthenes (never heard of him!) proved correctly that the earth was spherical doesn’t, to my mind, show that the ancient Greeks were irrational en masse. What it shows is that it was possible for them to discover the truth (or rather: something closer to the truth) about the shape of the earth. That said, I think it would have been too much to expect that out of your typical ancient Greek.

              I guess what this means is that I think you should call someone’s holding of a belief irrational only if they display epistemic blameworthiness in the way they came to hold it and maintain it. You don’t seem to look at things that way, though.

              • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

                I think it’s possible to be rational, in general, and still be wrong. That’s because if we’re, say, 90% rational based on the available evidence, the 10% we’ve failed to evaluated may be what corrects us. That just reiterates the fact that we ought to be slow to form conclusions.

                But that doesn’t change the idea that flat-earth belief would still have been irrational. Those who held the idea probably did so merely because they never really thought about it. It’s a little silly to say they were irrational “en masse” because that sort of implies that everyone sat around thinking deeply about that sort of thing. Most people in antiquity were probably much more concerned about their day to day circumstances than philosophy or science.

                Eratosthenes showed that even someone in antiquity could employ the method of science and reason to demonstrate the circumference of the Earth. Even in relatively primitive times, proper employment of rational thought led to truth.

                If we take some great mystery like the origin of the universe, let’s say in a thousand years we find the scientific explanation and the data is indisputable. Well, the ones who would have been irrational would have been the ones who insisted the universe must be this way or that, despite incomplete data. The ones who remained agnostic on the matter would still have been rational to do so.

                So if I asked a peasant in antiquity if they thought the Earth was round or flat, the most rational answer would be, “I don’t know!” Holding beliefs due to incorrect or insufficient evidence is irrational, because it shows a failure to follow proper scientific methodology.

                • Rob Gressis

                  Mike D, you wrote:

                  “But that doesn’t change the idea that flat-earth belief would still have been irrational. Those who held the idea probably did so merely because they never really thought about it.”

                  OK, so it’s irrational to believe that the earth is flat, even though it looks flat, because it was possible to come up with the approach of Eratosthenes to prove that the earth is round. Consequently, it seems like you’re saying this: “people who believed that the earth is flat were irrational, because if they had thought for a while, they could have realized that the earth is round.” That’s honestly what it looks like you’re saying to me. Not trying to score a point.

                  You go on:

                  “It’s a little silly to say they were irrational ‘en masse’ because that sort of implies that everyone sat around thinking deeply about that sort of thing. Most people in antiquity were probably much more concerned about their day to day circumstances than philosophy or science.”

                  So now it seems like you’re saying that people in ancient Greece were *NOT* irrational as a group, because saying that they’re irrational as a group implies that they all sat around thinking, ‘is the earth flat?’ and concluding, ‘yup!’. So in other words, it looks like you’re saying above that they *WERE* irrational because they didn’t sit around thinking: “how do I know the earth is flat”, but in this comment, right afterwards, it looks like you’re saying that they WEREN’T irrational, because they didn’t have the time to sit around thinking: “how do I know the earth is flat” (OK, now I’m trying to score a point).

                  So, since I know that no one on a blog ever actually makes a mistake in reasoning, even though we all write these comments very quickly (here I’m just being needlessly snarky), how did I misinterpret you (here’s I’m being passive aggressive)?

                  • Jeff

                    Yeah, I’d agree with Rob that I can’t see how it would have been irrational for the average ancient Greek person to believe that the earth was flat.

                    • Jeff

                      By the way Randal, I agree with you that it certainly sounds like Hallquist has set himself on quite an ambitious project here. And perhaps he deserves your criticisms.

                      But what I can’t understand is why you would so seriously attack his competency and character without going into at least some slight detail about how he argues his case–in fact, you’ve doggedly refused to do so. Are you trying to avoid pre-maturely spilling all the beans about the content of this not-yet-released debate? If that’s the case, this article is very ill-timed–you should have waited until after the debate was released before leveling these charges. Or, have you perhaps been too uncharitable in your reading of Hallquist’s presentation, and there really isn’t very much support for your charges? Or what?

                      This just seems very odd and uncharacteristic of you, especially since you’ve made it such a centerpiece of your public project to encourage civilized discourse.

                    • Jeff

                      Rob, you seem like a pretty impartial guy, what do you think? If this is all much ado about nothing, I’ll drop it. I’m certainly not trying to be a troll and I don’t want to come across as one…

                    • Rob Gressis

                      Honestly, Jeff, if I had to pick right now who’s right between you and Randal, I’d say I don’t know (at first I sided more with you, but I started to examine the exchange more closely, and now I’m not sure). Here’s my very cursory score-keeping: (1) you shouldn’t have attributed to Randal the view that he thinks Chris is an intellectually immature asshole. Even if he thinks he’s arrogant and unserious for attributing those views to theistic philosophers, it doesn’t follow that he’s an asshole for doing so. (2) I agree with you that Randal seems to me to be leveling a serious charge against Hallquist. Randal says that he’s only saying that Chris is making an extraordinary claim without providing enough evidence, and that to say that about someone is not the same as leveling a serious charge against him. But Randal also writes above that “The journey toward intellectual maturation includes the growing recognition that folks can disagree with us without being wicked or stupid.” And he seems to be very strongly implying that Chris, by saying that all theists are irrational qua their theism, has not reached the destination of intellectual maturity and hence is intellectually immature. And I could certainly see how someone would find that to be a serious charge.

                    • Jeff

                      Fair enough re: my “asshole” comment. Randal, I apologize for that.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      no worries

                    • John

                      “But what I can’t understand is why you would so seriously attack his competency and character…” – Jeff

                      Randal put forth a grand display of that here re. Mike Doolittle… before Randal deleted the particular posts and all subsequent comments.

                      “This just seems very odd and uncharacteristic of you, especially since you’ve made it such a centerpiece of your public project to encourage civilized discourse.” – Jeff

                      See reply above.

                    • Jeff

                      Yeah, I’ve got my serious doubts at this point about Randal as keeper of the discursive peace. I think I gotta take a good long break from this blog. Randal, don’t shed too many tears. :)

                    • John

                      I suspect a number of participants on this forum share your doubts.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Then don’t comment here anymore. The internet is a big place. Move on.

                    • John

                      You certainly have felt free to share your opinions on places like A-Unicornist and Debunking Christianity etc. I seem to recall you describing Debunking Christianity as “simply toxic”, and I will not repeat what you had to say about Mike D. recently. Strangely, I don’t recall Mike D. or John L. asking you to “move on” from their sites.

                      Randall, the veils of open-mindedness and gentlemanliness about you seem to have grown… mighty thin as of late.

                      T- (how many hours) until this is deleted?

                  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

                    Okay, a couple of things.

                    First, I want to reiterate that there’s a distinction between an irrational belief and “being irrational”.

                    I think the big question is whether you think it can be rational to believe something that’s completely and totally false, which I don’t think it is. That’s because a thorough and proper evaluation of the available evidence will lead to either the truth, or show it to be presently indeterminate.

                    But “being ir/rational” is different. Firstly, no one is rational all the time, ever. Most of the time, just by virtue of being human, we’re not very rational at all. It’s not some black and white thing where we are either 100% rational or we’re 100% irrational. We can be mostly rational and still be just irrational enough to be wrong. We can have a thorough understanding of philosophy and logic and still fail to see past our biases.

                    So I’m saying that it’s irrational to believe the earth is flat, now or 2.5 thousand years ago. But that doesn’t mean that the people who may have held that belief were irrational in general. And it’s highly unlikely that they sat around thinking about it much anyway so while the rational answer would have been “I don’t know”, the likely answer would have been “who cares?”

                    • Rob Gressis

                      Mike, you write: “I think the big question is whether you think it can be rational to believe something that’s completely and totally false, which I don’t think it is.” So, what’s the difference between saying “belief B is true” and “belief B is rational”?

                      You go on: “[The reason it can't be rational to believe something that's completely and totally false is that] a thorough and proper evaluation of the available evidence will lead to either the truth, or show it to be presently indeterminate”. I’m worried about the following, then: take the case of Smith that Randal discussed above. All the publicly available evidence supports the claim that Smith is guilty, and none of it supports the claim that Smith is innocent (though much of it is consistent with the claim that Smith is innocent). From an outsider’s point of view, it’s 99% likely that Smith did it. Maybe 99.99% likely. But Smith didn’t do it. So I take it you would say that it’s irrational to believe that Smith did it.

                      OK, now this raises the question: WHY say that it’s irrational for people to believe Smith did it? Presumably, because there’s a 1% chance that Smith didn’t do it, or perhaps because there’s a .01% chance Smith didn’t do it. In other words, given the evidence we have, it’s indeterminate whether Smith did it. So, I think you should think, shouldn’t you, that it’s irrational to believe that Smith did it? But now you should believe that it’s irrational to believe almost anything that that is not a necessary truth, right?

                    • Jeff

                      That’s well said.

                    • Jeff

                      Mike, I agree with much of what you say, and I’m certainly sympathetic to where you’re coming from.

                      As to the distinction between an irrational belief and “being irrational,” I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m so sore on Randal here. He’s leveling charges against Hallquist for perceived “prejudices,” “intellectual [immaturity],” and “absurd and ignorant” views, because he perceives Hallquist to be launching a “broad-based attack on [theists'] very rationality and intellectual integrity.” And his perceptions may even be correct, but since he has thus far refused to provide any excerpts from or summary of Hallquist’s presentation which might substantiate his charges, I’m left to wonder whether he’s uncharitably assuming the worst about Hallquist and firing off cheap shots at him.

                      About whether it’s universally irrational to believe the earth is flat, I still don’t see how that could be the case. Certainly the earth seems in our everyday experiences to be more or less flat, so if someone lacks the relevant evidence we have that shows otherwise, I can’t see why they would be irrational to believe that the earth is flat. Is it irrational to accept quantum mechanics, since further evidence might conceivably show it to be (slightly or seriously) mistaken?

                    • Jeff

                      I’ll add that from my perspective, a well-educated modern adult who believes that the earth is flat is almost certainly holding that belief irrationally.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              As I commented to Jeff above:

              “Chris may technically only be imputing one irrational belief to these individuals [academic philosophers who are theists and work in the philosophy of religion]. But of necessity given that they’ve spent their careers thinking about these issues, Chris is not, in fact, simply identifying one irrational belief. Instead, he is articulating a broad-based attack on their very rationality and intellectual integrity. And that is quite outrageous.”

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “there’s nothing cognitively deficient about irrationality.”

          Robert Gressis is correct (he should be, he’s a philosophy prof). “Cognition” pertains to the act of knowing. By definition you can’t know a belief that is irrational.

          I take it that the point you’re making is that knowledge and rationality don’t always aid the survival of an organism. Of course I’d agree with that. But that’s another issue.

    • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

      From all what I have read from him, I have the strong impression that Chris Hallquist is a bullying individual who often resorts to ridicule towards all people disagreeing with him, even atheists doubting the grandiose claims of evolutionary psychology.

      He is probably to atheism what Pat Robertson is to Christianity.

      As a progressive Christian, I really wish my ideas to be challegend but I don’t feel any particular need to get bullied.

      So if Chris is trying to “reach out” to Christians in oder to convert them to antitheism, he is clearly chosing the wrong way because most of us are going to ignore him.

  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    Neither atheism nor theism are irrational. In fact, when one considers how theistic tradition has treated atheism as a worthy opponent, it is rather weird how atheists make fun and smear believers.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Fortunately Chris’s views are not representative of atheists who are engaged in philosophy of religion, though it undoubtedly is a relatively common view among the village atheist in the blogosphere.

    • David_Evans

      Quite right. I’m sure those theists who have quoted “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” to me were not representative. Nor those who can be read every day saying directly that atheists have no basis for morality. No true theist would say such things.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    By the way, I’m very anxious to ear this debate and I’ll probably write a review of it.

    Randal, you are most likely the est Evangelical apologist in the world and I am curious to see how you will react to Chris antitheist assertions.

    As you pointed out in your post about my landman “André
    Comte-Sponville”

    http://randalrauser.com/2011/02/atheists-without-anger/

    “Martin Marty has observed that the new
    division which will define our age is not between conservative and liberal, or
    religious and irreligious, but rather between mean and non-mean. In the first
    couple chapters of his book Andre comes across as profoundly non-mean. In a olarized day with mean people on all sides, that is a breath of fresh air.”

  • http://soi.blogspot.ca/ josephpalazzo

    Some people have missed the boat. Hitler was rational, Stalin was rational, Mao was rational. Within their own worldview, these people were all rational. In fact, most people are rational. You need to examine the worldview, that is, the undelying assumptions as to whether that worldview represents reality.

    • Kerk

      No, Hitler wasn’t rational. Try reading Mein Kampf. For 500 pages, no single argument and “I” in every other sentence.

      • http://soi.blogspot.ca/ josephpalazzo

        I disagree. He was rational. If you accept his worldview – that the German race is superior – then eliminating the inferior races ( the Jews, the Slavs, the Gypsies, etc) is justifiable.

  • RonH

    There’s an awful lot of bytes being expended here on a debate we haven’t heard yet. Perhaps we should save them for a more informed conversation after the Big Reveal? Here’s to hoping the Doubtcasters pull the final product together before interest wanes… ;-)

    Although, I have to say that the Schieber/Andrews format didn’t really grab me. I would have preferred to read the debate myself rather than hear guys reading to me. What I enjoy in a spoken debate is the live interaction between the participants.

  • Frances Janusz

    1. Mike,
    It’s surely possible for a belief to be wholly rational and yet wholly wrong. I cannot agree that it was irrational for ancient people to believe that the world was flat or that the sun went round the earth. Why should they think otherwise? Why should they think that they “didn’t know” when their senses appeared to confirm their belief? Was Newton irrational not to believe that space and time were curved?
    2. Everyone,
    I’ve never understood Plantinga’s EAAN. I mean, sure I understand it generally, but I don’t understand the details. For instance, what about the the scenario is “evolutionary”? There’s survival, but survival is not at all the same as evolution. Can anyone explain this? (Sorry if this is too off topic – if it is, maybe Randal would be prepared to open another thread?)

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