It looks like I can’t yet move beyond my disagreement with Luke Galen. Yesterday in the midst of a comment responding to Rob Gressis in the thread “Religiosity never leads to a decrease in bias? Reasonable doubts about Luke Galen” Luke observed:
“Based on the title of this ridiculous blog page, some people are unable to distinguish between the messenger and the message in an ad hominem way.”
What?! Ad hominem? I replied:
“What’s ‘ad hominem’ about quoting you, critiquing the quote, and challenging you to defend it?”
“Dude its ad hominem to accuse someone of bias when they are merely reporting the results. Again, must i keep repeating, the studies are there. They define the terms. They write up the results. I merely sum them up. Its completely ridiculous to blog and shriek about things you have neither read nor understood and attach it as some complaint about my ‘bias’.”
First off, how does Luke know I “shriek” as I blog? If he wants to project an image of me making loud vocalizations as I type, why not have me “yell” or “shout”? Why “shriek”? In my experience only Beliebers and banshees “shriek”. Perhaps Luke is trying to discredit my analysis by imputing to me “intuitive”, passional behavior in keeping with his assumptions of how “religious” people reason. Regardless, I don’t yell, shout or shriek as I type … though I have been known to sigh.
Second, Luke is misunderstanding the ad hominem. The informal fallacy of ad hominem consists of a personal critique of an individual which is irrelevant to the assessment of the truth claims made by the individual. This needs to be distinguished from personal critiques of the individual which are relevant to the assessment of the truth claims made by the individual. Relevant character critiques are not instances of ad hominem and instead provide potentially valuable evidence when assessing the credibility of the individual’s witness.
Imagine, for example, that you’re at a used car lot. The salesman walks over to you as you’re eyeing the bright orange (or is that rust?) AMC Gremlin. Your companion says “Don’t listen to that salesman. His hair is greasy and he’s got a piece of lettuce in his teeth.” That’s ad hominem because those facts are irrelevant to the salesman’s credibility.
But imagine that the salesman says “She’s a beaut, eh? And this car’s never been driven in winter.” Now imagine that your friend whispers in your ear: “No way, that guy’s puffing!” Is this instance of questioning the salesman’s credibility an example of ad hominem? Clearly not, because this is relevant. Puffery is a legal term which refers to the practice of “puffing up” a product for sale by making exaggerated claims for the product. And if your friend has good reason to believe the salesman is puffing, then that is relevant to the credibility of the witness.
I never offered an ad hominem critique of Luke. However, I have repeatedly asked him to defend a claim he has made precisely because I can see that he is puffing. Now you might be wondering how I could possibly know he is puffing without reading all the studies he’s cited. To answer that, let’s go back again to our original exchange which I recounted in the above-mentioned “ridiculous” and “ad hominem” article. In particular, I quoted Luke as follows:
“Perhaps you could scrape up a group of christians that are less biased than a group of atheists, but that would be unrelated to their religiosity.”
Luke’s statement here parallels the salesman’s claim that “this car’s never been driven in winter.” How could any car salesman know that a forty year old car on his lot was never driven in winter? Good question. But it pales in comparison to the question of how Luke could know that no group of Christians anywhere could possibly show less bias than a group of atheists which is due, at least in part, to the religiosity of those Christians. While the studies Luke cites may have all sorts of fascinating insights, they will not establish a claim this audacious. Luke is obviously puffing.
But I didn’t leave matters at personal incredulity towards an extraordinary claim. I went further by providing some defeaters to Luke’s claim including the Christian emphasis on soul-introspection to overcome our penchant for self-deception. Think of two groups:
Group 1 (Christian): maintains a strong emphasis on the penchant for self-deception as a result of which group members regularly introspect their beliefs and motives and engage in acts of personal confession to one another.
Group 2 (Atheist): has no particular emphasis on the penchant for self-deception and as a result group members do not regularly introspect their beliefs and motives or engage in acts of personal confession to one another.
Luke recognizes that some Christian groups can be less biased than some atheist groups. Thus, it may be that Group 1 is less biased than Group 2. However, he also claims that for any Christian group that is less biased than an atheist group that the decrease in bias would be unrelated to the religiosity of the Christian group. This commits Luke to one of two positions with respect to the decrease of bias in Group 1 over-against Group 2:
Option 1: The decrease in bias is not related to the Christian practice of self-introspection and confession.
Option 2: The decrease in bias is related to the Christian practice of self-introspection and confession but this practice is non-religious.
In his response to me Luke suggests both possibilities:
“Well I was going to ask for evidence that religious confession actually does have an empirically supported demonstrable effect in reality, but since you think that it “would”. That sounds like gospel to me. You cannot use “abundant resources” as proof that this works. You have to have empirical evidence. The key question is, is it a religious mechanism? Or does it just work the same as a secular confession would?”
So Luke suggests first that any decrease in bias among the Christian group would not be due to religiously motivated self-introspection and confession. Perhaps then he can refer us to the studies that purport to establish this claim. Which studies establish that for any group of Christians and any group of atheists, any decrease in bias in the Christian group over-against the atheist group would be unrelated to any aspect of religiosity within the Christian group? Until he can identify the specific studies that establish this very particular and audacious claim, I’ll continue to maintain that he is puffing.
Next, Luke plays the second card by suggesting that if the Christian group would have a decrease in bias due to confession it would be because confession is not fundamentally a religious practice. He puts the point like this: “Or does it just work the same as a secular confession would?”
This is a revealing point because by invoking option 2 Luke seems to be conceding that he lacks the evidence to establish the truth of option 1. Unfortunately, Luke is in error if he thinks that the parallels between Christian confession and secular confession would entail that Christian confession was non-religious. Consider: circumcision was once practiced widely in the secular population. But that doesn’t change the fact that Jewish circumcision was a practice borne of religiosity!
To sum up, Luke seems to respond to the confession example by asserting that (1) any decrease in bias in a Christian population practicing confession wouldn’t be due to the practice of confession, but (2) if confession would decrease bias then it wouldn’t be a religious practice.
Where I come from we call that painting the target around the arrow.
In sum, I didn’t engage in ad hominem attacks on Luke. And I don’t think my analysis is ridiculous. And I don’t deny that the studies he cites have many interesting results to be pondered with care. But Luke needs to identify the specific studies that justify the conclusion that for any decrease in bias in a Christian group over-against an atheist group, that this decrease would not be due at least in part to religiosity within the Christian group. Until he can establish that, it is most reasonable to conclude that Luke is making much stronger claims against religiosity than the studies warrant.