I had a great dialogue with the Society of Edmonton Atheists. But it seems like my dialogue in the blog with one of the SEA’s chief representatives, Daniel (not to be confused with the character in Elton John’s song) has been degenerating.
Daniel initially wrote in the blog: “Randal is a great guy, very intelligent, and kept his cool quite nicely.”
Now that was a promising start! But then he had to go and spoil it by adding:
” But no, I do not have a newfound respect for Christianity. In fact, I was all the more flabbergasted at the incredible contortions and absurd rationalizations that believers make to justify their memetic equilibrium.”
That was too much. I needed some defense of such egregious charges and so I responded: “You … suggested that I made “incredible contortions” (I take it that is a reference to my reasoning rather than my ‘Cirque du Soleil’ performance) as well as “absurd rationalizations”. I am not sure to what you are referring and thus would be most indebted if you could provide some specific examples.”
Daniel then explained:
“1. The award for most absurd rationalization:
Randal’s attempt to justify faith in a bronze-age middle-eastern text as the word of God given the horrible barbarisms therein.
2. And the award for most incredible contortion goes to:
The utter mess of circular reasoning Randal makes on how to interpret the bible — through Jesus — but how do we know about Jesus — through the bible. Hey, wait a second; did I see you at U2?s 360 tour?
3. And finally ladies and gentleman, in the category of most stark naked assertion the winner is (drumroll please):
Randal’s belief in the historicity or divinity of Jesus. Granted, your talk at SEA was not about either of these topics but they presumably form the basis of your worldview. To which I say; EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE. (And you ain’t got any).
Let’s go through Daniel’s list. His first example of an “absurd rationalization” is very disappointing because his complaint doesn’t identify any problems with my discussion of identifying genre, appealing to canonical unity as an interpretive principle, and an appropriation model of divine inspiration. Instead it just restates that Daniel somehow found this all “absurd”. But I already know Daniel is on the record as finding it absurd. I’d like to find out why.
His “incredible contortion” is directed to my appeal to Jesus and his life and words as an interpretive principle (e.g. for interpreting the imprecatory psalms). But his claim that it is “circular” is bizarre. By that reasoning it would be circular to interpret any text by appealing to one voice in the text as the authoritative voice because you encounter that voice in the text. For example, I have argued that Henry Fleming, the protagonist of The Red Badge of Courage is an ironic anti-hero who deconstructs the ideal of war and machismo. I have presented that argument based on a careful reading of the text and an identification of the cues that are authoritative. According to Daniel this process is hopelessly “circular” because I encounter Henry Fleming in the text! I must assume that Daniel has never taken a course in English literature.
Daniel’s final objection switches to a topic I didn’t even discuss and then he states “EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE.” Of course I have deconstructed this mindless mantra in my blog before. The problem lies here: who decides (a) which claims are “extraordinary” and (b) what “extraordinary evidence” consists of? Of course Daniel is the one who decides if he’s invoking the principle. In other words, this co-called principle is just a way for him to stop up his ears and close his eyes with maximal tightness against any evidence that might shake his dogmatic commitments.