It is kind of strange that my interview with John Loftus should have been overwhelmed by my one observation about his self-referential contradiction, but such is life. Here’s what John said:
“I don’t have any beliefs about ultimate reality at all, for to have them I must positively assent to a proposition about ultimate reality.”
I made a simple observation that John’s claim that he doesn’t have any beliefs about “ultimate reality” “is itself a belief about ultimate reality, and thus the claim is self-defeating.” This really wasn’t a particularly important point (and I’ll explain why in a moment). But I dropped it in there to see what John would do with it. The results were, to say the least, interesting.
Here’s what I would have said if I were John:
“Sheesh [John likes saying “Sheesh”]. Look Randal, let’s say that you assert “I don’t know a thing about the Taj Mahal.” How would you feel if somebody insisted that you had contradicted yourself because by saying you don’t know a thing about the Taj Mahal you would be claiming to know at least one thing about it, namely that you don’t know a thing about it, and that is contradictory. This would be kind of silly, wouldn’t it? I mean yeah, technically that might be correct, but it is just a figure of speech. When people say they’re so hungry they could eat a horse do you counter that this is technically impossible? Likewise, when I say I don’t have any beliefs about ultimate reality I don’t mean that literally. Sure, I have my opinions about things. The real point is that I’m not claiming to know anything about the nature of ultimate reality.”
But John didn’t reply that way. Nor did Adam Hazzard who instead insisted that John’s statement didn’t concern ultimate reality at all. By analogy, I presume Adam would think that “I don’t know a thing about the Taj Mahal” is not about the Taj Mahal. Instead, it is about my doxastic attitudes. But this is confused. In fact, that claim is about my doxastic attitudes about the Taj Mahal. And thus, if you were to draw up a list (an infinitely long list, as it turns out) of true propositions about the Taj Mahal, on that list would be the proposition that Randal knows nothing about it. Likewise, an infinitely long list of true propositions about ultimate reality would include the proposition that John has no beliefs about it. So Adam’s way of dealing with John’s problem is a non-starter.
As for John’s response, instead of reading this as a critique of self-reference about belief, he interpreted it as a nefarious attempt to shoulder him with an evidential burden to defend whatever doxastic attitudes he may hold about the nature of reality. And so he concluded:
“What Randal ends up saying is something like this: If I’m asked whether snakes can talk then when I reply I don’t “believe” so (or more accurately, I don’t “think” so), what I really mean is that I have a belief that they don’t talk. What this does, is to force non-believers to stand on the same quicksand as he does. You see, both are beliefs. So long as he is allowed to use that word to describe both that snakes can talk and that they can’t, then it levels the playing field between beliefs and knowledge based on the probabilities. He won’t let it go. He can’t. And to think, he wonders why I think he’s delusional and say it on occasion.”
This is a completely delusional analysis borne of John’s inability to read what I wrote. I guess the lesson here, at least as far as John’s comments are concerned, is that when you’re a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. And if you’re determined to defend your ignorance about the ultimate nature of reality, then even a relatively innocuous observation about self-referential defeat becomes a nefarious attempt to place an evidential burden on your shoulders.
All this is quite ironic since John co-authored a book in which he defends atheism. And yet even now he remains unwilling to say he believes that the ultimate nature of reality is atheistic.
Looks like I won the debate!