Every so often people provide challenges to our positions that we cannot seem to answer. So what are we to do? Concede the difficulty and work to revise or reject our position? Well we could do that, but nobody likes to eat crow. And we have our reputations to protect, don’t we? So I am grateful to John Loftus for providing an alternative. First, create a diversion; second, insult with a range of slurs; and third (and most interestingly) accuse of heinous actions in counterfactual situations.
Let’s consider this procedure more closely so we can learn diversionary deflection from a true master.
The context was my critique of John’s essay “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I pointed out that John had utterly failed to explain at which point a piece of writing is sufficiently obscure, ambiguous or opaque that it could no longer by a product superintended by a divine agency. Eventually we arrived at the problem: John needs to demonstrate that “The only way we can know if a text is a revelation is if there is some property to the text which uniquely identifies it as having been produced by the superintendence of a divine being.”
Further, I pointed out that this claim is a token of a type claim which assumes that we can only assume an event, object or state of affairs is causally linked to an agent if that event, object or state of affairs has some property which marks it such that it could only have been produced by that agent.
Defend this contentious claim, I said.
I guess John couldn’t, and here is where it gets interesting for rather than take the lowroad of defeat and revision, he went on the offensive. And we could all learn. Let’s consider the three steps.
Create a diversion
To begin with, John offers a clever diversion. Before he will deign to answer my question he wants me to address the problem of evil.
“What reason is there for your loving God not to have done anything to help her? Does your God know when a sparrow falls or not? Does he count the hairs on our heads or not?”
So I must provide a theodicy before John can be bothered to defend his position.
Insult with a range of slurs
Next, as John continues this demand he introduces a range of slurs:
“So I challenge you to come our from your gerrymandering rock and slither out into the open to stop being a pharisee and make a case for why your loving God did nothing to help her.”
I’m a snake and a Pharisee? I guess that makes me a Pharisaical snake. (I am trying to picture a garter snake with a phylactery tied around its head.)
A Pharisaical snake who is obliged to provide a comprehensive theodicy. Yikes, this is gettin’ worse every moment.
But the coup de grace comes with the third point.
Accuse of heinous actions in counterfactual situations
Forget your run of the mill ad hominem. Loftus fine-tunes an attack on character in nearby possible worlds. His problem of evil case centered on a sixteenth century martyr’s horrific murder: the burning of Anne Askew. So John then says to me:
“You would have lit the fire that burned Anne Askew. You would.”
Let us summarize. I am a Pharisaical snake who would have burned a martyr and who is obliged to provide a comprehensive theodicy before John will address my question.
Putting the one-two-three punch into action
Wow, this is good stuff. Let’s try this out on a skeptic.
Skeptic: “Why would God command the slaughter of the Canaanites?”
Loftus-inspired Christian: “I’ll answer that if you first explain how light can be a wave and a particle and you provide an epistemological argument for our cognitive faculties being truth conducive rather than merely having survival value. [Now segue to insults.] So crawl out and defend yourself rather than hiding in a dumpster like a rat. [Finally, introduce the counterfactual assault on character.] Oh, by the way, if you had been alive in Stalinist Russia you would have tortured orthodox Christians and burned their icons.”
Skeptic: “Wow. I guess I’ll shut up now.”
Done and done! Thank you John Loftus!