For a while I’ve been thinking of instituting a new award for the really bad comments on the blog. Not the boring-bad ones like “Your [sic] an idiot Rouser [sic]!” Rather, I’ve wanted to honor the occasional real stinker which gets things wrong in a really big way. Today I finally settled on a name, one which combines the prestige of Cannes with the sheer ignominy of the Razzies. And what’s the one thing I do when I read these comments? The ole’ face-in-palm of course. And so in recognition of the honor of the Palme d’Or and the shame of the Golden Raspberry I present the first Face-in-Palme d’Or.
I had two nominees today. The first was clamat. He asked what advances philosophers have made over the last two millennia with respect to the following question: “(1): Is There a God? (aka, the “First Question”).”
I replied as follows: “your first question can be rephrased as follows: ‘Is the ultimate ground of all things an agent or not?'”
Clamat responded as follows: “Jesus, really? Yes, it may be possible to rephrase it using more words and more esoteric terminology. Thanks for demonstrating Dennett’s point so effectively.”
This comment stunk worse than a jug of cream left in the trunk on a summer afternoon. Note how clamat immediately charges me with the same behavior that Dennett imputes to philosophical theologians, i.e. “willful obscurity”. Really? I was intending to obfuscate? On the contrary, the obfuscation comes when we use words like “god” which have all sorts of different meanings depending on who is using them. Instead, I used neutral terminology which got to the heart of the issue. You see, when philosophical theologians speak about God they are speaking about the ultimate ground of reality. They’re not talking just about one more thing, as if there are couches, and trees and stars, and oh yeah, perhaps God as well. On the contrary, the concept of God is one which offers a ground for other explanations.
But I did one other really important thing in rephrasing clamat’s comment. I dropped the prejudicial nature of it. You see, clamat is attempting to support a charge that theologians or philosophical theologians are engaged in a futile quest because they have still not made the kind of universally recognized advances that he’d like to see. What I did was rephrase the question to encompass not just those who are theistic personalists, but all people who are concerned with the ultimate metaphysical questions. Thus, when Carl Sagan declared that the cosmos is all there is, or was or ever will be, he made a claim about the ultimate ground, and equated it with the universe. Sagan’s claim actually has a lot fewer takers than does classical theism. But regardless, he is as engaged in this quest for understanding the ultimate metaphysical ground of all things as is the theist. And by rephrasing the question in neutral terms I made that point clear.
For these reasons it is rather humorous that clamat accuses me of intentionally planning to obfuscate. Rather, I dropped a term that begs a definition (i.e. “god”) while offering a clear and precise definition of what is really at issue in its place. Unfortunately by doing so I nullified the prejudicial nature of his question. And to top it off he had just finished with the most ridiculous attempt to defend Dennett’s ridiculous statement. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
So for all those reasons clamat is runner up for the first “Face-in-Palme d’Or”.
And this leads us to the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
The winner of the “Face-in-Palme d’Or” is … Dogmatic Daniel!
[applause and cheers]
Daniel’s contribution was truly outstanding. His comment was also offered within the context of Daniel Dennett’s extraordinarily foolish comments. This is what Dogmatic Daniel said:
Clamat, 10 points. Unpacking Randal’s rhetoric takes way more patience that I have.
Dennett is in no way suggesting a conspiracy theory. For Randal to argue such proves nothing but Randal’s desperate need for zingers and one-liners in his protest against freethought.
In Randal’s world sharing a youtube video on Facebook makes one a fundamentalist, and pointing out that theology is much ado about nothing makes you a conspiracy wingnut!
Sorry clamat, this one blew you out of the water.
Poor Dogmatic Daniel. Talk about misreading an argument. Let me ‘splain something to Dogmatic Daniel. I was using an argument called a reductio ad absurdum. In this argument you begin by treating a specific claim as if it were true. From there you demonstrate that accepting the truth of the claim leads to absurdities.
As I have illustrated, Dennett’s condemnation of philosophical theology is unqualified: it is “a pseudo-sophisticated mugging game”, period. For that reason, “there’s no reason to learn any of it”. So I begin by assuming that claim for reductio. From there I demonstrate that absurd consequences follow, namely that those hundreds and hundreds of scholars who participate in philosohpical theology are all involved in a pseudo discipline, know that they are so involved (as evinced by their willfull obscurity) and are together jointly working to convey a false sense of its legitimacy to the wider culture. This is indeed a conspiratorial thesis.
Did I really think Dennett thinks this? Nah. In fact, I said as much:
(2) Dennett made some obviously false, ridiculous comments, perhaps because he was mugging for the crowd.
I argued that we should go with (2). But what does that mean? To mug for the crowd means to play something up, to make wild statements for crowd approval. In other words, I was saying that the most charitable interpretation is that Dennett was just shooting his mouth off in an irresponsible way by playing to the crowd. I suggested this precisely because the alternative that philosophical theology is “a pseudo-sophisticated mugging game” that is being perpetuated by theists, atheists and agnostics all alike, is just too completely stupid to be taken seriously. Such a claim should alvinize any attentive thinker. (For a definition of “alvinize” see Dennett’s Philosopher’s Lexicon.)
So Dogmatic Daniel completely misread the argument. But he didn’t just miss a subtle emphasis here or there. He overlooked the entire logic of the argument in its reductio form. Moreover, he ignored my explicit endorsement of (2). And to top it off, he suggests I “protest against freethought”. I guess that is sort of true. I do protest against thought that is free of evidence, reason, or any ability to follow a moderately complex argument.
For those reasons, Dogmatic Daniel wins today’s Face-in-Palme d’Or!