John Loftus has posted a response to the McGrew-Boghossian debate. In his article Loftus refers to himself as “Boghossian’s bulldog”. I think Loftus may have confused “bulldog” with “lapdog”. Bulldogs are known for being tenacious and territorial, aggressive and fiercely effective in a fight. Lapdogs, by contrast, are noisy and ineffectual and express uncritical admiration for the target of their affection.
Tenacious, effective bulldog? Or noisy and ineffectual lapdog? Let’s take a closer look.
Loftus starts off: “I think [Boghossian] did well but McGrew threw him for a loop once or twice.”
Unfortunately, Loftus neglects to explain by what criterion Boghossian “did well”. Nor does he explain and explore the one or two times McGrew “threw [Boghossian] for a loop.” Needless to say, this is neither tenacious nor effective. Bulldogs do not lead with vague, subjective impressions.
Boghossian defines faith in two different ways: as “belief without evidence” and as “pretending to know things you don’t know.” McGrew points out that neither of these definitions reflects common usage of the term faith (for example, he observes that Boghossian’s definitions are not represented in the OED).
With this as background, McGrew offers a skydiver example which is meant to illumine how the concept of faith does, in fact, function. In the example, McGrew notes that the skydiver makes a jump knowing that statistically he has a 99.993% chance of surviving. But he still has faith as he jumps. In other words, faith is consistent with excellent evidence (including the reasonable expectation in a survival rate of 99.993%). McGrew’s analysis demonstrates that Boghossian’s definitions are wholly spurious. Faith is not inimical to evidence but rather is predicated on it.
So how does Loftus respond to the skydiving example? He makes the following inane comment:
“When it comes to actions like jumping from a plane it is impossible to give it a 67% effort. One cannot throw 67% of himself out the plane. Given such demand no one could do any action unless he was 100% confident of the outcome. So McGrew’s analogy is wrongheaded.”
Unfortunately, I can’t make any sense of Loftus’ comments here. He seems to think he has presented an argument of some sort. But there is no logically valid argument here that I can see. As best I can reconstruct it, Loftus reasons like this:
(1) McGrew’s illustration assumes that one can throw 67% of oneself out of a plane.
(2) One cannot throw 67% of oneself out of a plane.
(3) Therefore, if one throws oneself out of an airplane, one must be 100% certain that one will survive.
But McGrew assumes nothing like (1). Nobody ever disagreed with (2). And (3) doesn’t follow from (1) and (2).
More to the point, one need not be 100% certain that one will survive in order to jump out of an airplane. Just ask any skydiver. We go through life acting on varying degrees of trust and conviction (or certitude) and rarely do we ever reach the highest degrees of certainty.
Incredibly, immediately after this bewildering gobbledygook, Loftus accuses McGrew of “obfuscating”. That’s like Donald Sterling accusing Anderson Cooper of racial insensitivity.
Loftus the sets aside any further debate analysis and instead reverts to that with which he is familiar, i.e. uncritical gushing over Boghossian’s ability to use “rhetoric to his advantage.” Like a true lapdog, Loftus is unmoved by the abundant evidence of in-depth and scathing post-debate analyses of Boghossian’s performance illustrating that his rhetoric was not, in fact, effectual. Instead, the lapdog caps off his comments with a final expression of uncritical admiration:
“He did well. My advice to him is to not listen to the Christians. They wouldn’t have liked what he had to say anyway.”