The other day in his article “Daniel Dennett on Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently,” John Loftus made the following claim:
“Most of the time I deal with the arguments of believers respectfully until it appears they are unwilling to think. Sometimes I can spot them quickly, on the first comment here. They will mindlessly quote-mine from the Bible or the theology based on it. These are people who come to preach to me rather than learn from me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing significant believers can tell me that I have not considered before.”
I’d like to say a few things about the first and last sentences.
Let’s begin with the first. And here let me respond with a paraphrase of the statement: “Most of the time I deal with the arguments of believers respectfully until it appears they are not going to agree with me.” Alas, it’s always problematic when “thought” is reduced to “agreement with me”, as it clearly is here.
But my attention is focused primarily on that last sentence (thanks to Luke Breuer for drawing it to my attention). To quote him again, Loftus says: “there is nothing significant believers can tell me that I have not considered before.” Apparently Loftus has comprehensive knowledge of historical biblical criticism, ANE archaeology, biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, Christian history, philosophy of religion, philosophical theology and Christianity and science. Yawn, he’s heard it all before.
I never realized Loftus was such a renaissance man!
Yes, tongue firmly in cheek. In fact, the comment itself is silly. And if that’s all we had here — i.e. another silly, chest-thumping bravado comment from Loftus — I would have ignored it.
But what catches my attention here is that as ridiculous as this comment is, it captures attitudes that are, in fact, very common. How often do you find people of differing religious, philosophical, political, socio-economic (or other) views who take an unduly dismissive attitude toward those of a differing perspective? The answer is: with dizzying frequency. With a dismissal as sweeping as the one Loftus makes here, that dismissiveness can only be explained if people are tacitly adopting something like this absurd position, namely that we’ve mastered the entire field of discourse such that we can be confident we have nothing of substance to learn from our interlocutor.
And so, our sweeping dismissive attitudes are just as absurd and indefensible as the posture Loftus adopts here. So whatever the topic and whoever your interlocutor, try to keep an open mind. You don’t yet know everything and you just might learn something.