Several months ago I blocked John Loftus from commenting at my blog and I resolved not to respond any further to his asinine mud slinging. However, I do find the need to respond in this instance, not to Loftus’ attacks on myself, but rather on Jeff Lowder. As you probably know, Lowder has been a leader in the internet infidels community for twenty years and he currently blogs at The Secular Outpost. Not only is he a first-rate thinker, but he also consistently conducts himself in an exemplary manner, engaging his interlocutors with courtesy and proper decorum.
Despite Lowder’s intellect and admirable character — or perhaps, because of them — Loftus has engaged in a series of increasingly bizarre attacks on Lowder, repeatedly charging him with (among other things) falsely claiming to be a philosopher. You can find a good synopsis of this sorry display in Richard Carrier’s article “John Loftus on Jeff Lowder & Being a Philosopher.” Carrier helpfully links to (and briefly rebuts) Loftus’ many bizarre rants against Lowder whilst providing a helpful discussion of the use of terms like “philosopher”.
With that as an introduction, in this article I want to add my two cents in defense of Jeff. To that end I’m going to make three points.
First, being a good philosopher is important, but being a good (and wise) person is more important. And Jeff Lowder is a good (and wise) person.
The difference between Loftus and Jeff could not be greater in this regard. Loftus acts in a juvenile, petty manner. Through a series of posts (which, as noted, you can find linked in Carrier’s article), he engages in a series of attacks against Jeff which are so off-the-wall and poorly argued that they’d make Donald Trump blush. Jeff’s response, appropriately enough, has been silence. He wisely recognizes that there is little to be gained in slinging mud back.
But while Jeff’s response is indeed wise, it isn’t easy. When a foolish person is talking trash about you and doing so in a highly public, visible manner, of course you want to respond. It takes a truly laudable disciple to restrain oneself from responding to such unjustified attacks.
This attests not only to Jeff’s wisdom, but also as I said to his good character. Jeff always strives to model civil exchange in the all too brutish and crude realm of the blogosphere. And in this regard, his silence has spoken volumes.
Second, a philosopher is identified by interest and ability, and Jeff displays both.
Loftus has repeatedly insisted that Jeff Lowder isn’t a philosopher because Jeff has a degree in computer science rather than philosophy. Apparently, in Loftus’ world a person needs a terminal degree in philosophy to be counted as a philosopher.
Frankly, that’s exactly as silly as thinking that one needs to have a terminal degree in German to be called a German-speaker. One’s status as a German speaker is properly gauged not by counting degrees in German but rather by demonstrating the ability to speak in German. In other words, if you can and do speak German, you’re a German speaker, period.
I am reminded at this point of the famous Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Despite the fact that he had almost no formal training, Ramanujan is recognized to be one of the greatest mathematicians of the modern age. Nobody (except, perhaps, Loftus) would have been foolish enough to demand that Ramanujan acquire a terminal degree in mathematics before he could be considered a mathematician. That accolade was bestowed simply in virtue of his demonstrable ability to do high level mathematics.
Should Jeff be counted a philosopher? The question can be answered in like manner by simply considering whether Jeff can and does engage in philosophical reasoning. And the answer, on both counts, is yes. Once again, I’d simply commend readers to check out his contribution to Is the Atheist My Neighbor? for a concise demonstration of his philosophical abilities.
Third, Jeff’s lack of formal education in philosophy counts in favor of his philosophical abilities.
In closing I am going to turn Loftus’ argument based on Jeff’s lack of formal education on its head.
Let’s return to Ramanujan for a moment. His genius as a mathematician was particularly on display in the fact that he was an autodidact (that is, self-taught). Any person who has the ability to become adept in a particular subject matter through self-study is, all things being equal, even more impressive than the person who attains that same knowledge and skill through a formal program of study.
In short, it takes especial drive, discipline, and innate ability to become a mathematician — or a philosopher — through independent, self-directed study.
Thus, far from providing an obstacle to Jeff’s status as a philosopher, the fact that he is an autodidact who has never benefited from a formal course of academic study in philosophy counts not against his status as a philosopher but rather in favor of his drive, discipline and innate ability in the field.