On Generalizing about the Other Side’s Dishonesty and Ignorance

Randal Rauser and Chriss Halquist have been exchanging a series of posts about the alleged dishonesty and igorance of apologists. (See Randal’s latest post here.)

If Randal’s post is an accurate summary of the exchange with Hallquist–and I have no reason to doubt that it is–then my technical judgment of this exchange can be summed up in one word: “ouch.” With all due respect to Christ, Randal’s post seems to be a very solid critique.

So What? Why This Matters

The Hallquist-Rauser exchange is a perfect example of why I avoid debates about whether other people are rational, irrational, dishonest, ignorant, etc. In general, it seems to me that such claims are very difficult to defend and, much more important, they are a distraction from the core question of whether their beliefs are true. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go through, step-by-step, why I think Rauser’s critique succeeds.

Overview

Thinking out loud, here is what I propose.

(a) Come up with some generic criteria, method, or approach for justifying the claim that a person (any person) is “ignorant or dishonest” about subject S.

(b) Apply that generic criteria to McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga on the theistic side.

(c) Justify a statistical generalization about theistic apologists.

(d) Apply that to Hallquist, Parsons, and Dawkins on the atheistic side.

(e) Justify a statistical generalization about atheistic apologists.

How to Correctly Reason about Ignorance or Dishonesty

So let’s start with (a). The following is a logically correct argument form which can be used to establish that a person is ignorant or dishonest when making some claim.

(1) Person P sincerely made statement S about topic T.

(2) S is false.

(3) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statement S without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T.

(4) Therefore, person P is dishonest or ignorant about topic T.

The key point about premise (1) is the word “sincere.” That eliminates sarcasm, hypotheticals, etc. (2) is straightforward. If S is true, then the fact that person P said S can hardly be used to justify the claim that P is dishonest or ignorant about T. (3) also seems straightforward — we need premise (3) to eliminate the possibility that S is something about which competent authorities may disagree. Finally, (4) follows if (1), (2), and (3) are true.

The Alleged Dishonesty of Christian Apologists

Let’s now move onto (b). For Josh McDowell (JM), this would look like this.

(1) Josh McDowell sincerely made statement S1-Sn about topics T1-Tn.

(2) S1-Sn are false.

(3) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statements S1-Sn without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T1-Tn.

(4) Therefore, Josh McDowell is dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

Similar arguments would be needed for William Lane Craig (WLC) and Alvin Plantinga (AP).

Generalizing about Theistic Apologists in General

Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that all of those arguments work: JM, WLC, and AP are all “dishonest or ignorant” about one or more topics they’ve addressed. That brings us to (c). How would we justify the move from (b) to (c). The only logically correct answer would be to justify a very specific kind of premise known as a “statistical generalization.” The general form of a statistical generalization looks like this.

Z percent of F are G.

So, presumably, what Chris wants is to justify the following statistical generalization.

(CHG) Most Christian apologists are dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

That Chris is committed to CHG seems plausible, since in his original “Why They Don’t Believe” post, Chris wrote:

“Seeing the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics (sometimes I can’t tell which it is; sometimes I’m sure it’s the latter) pissed me off. That’s why I’ve spent a great deal of my time working to counter it.”

In my opinion, if Chris can justify the claim that JM and WLC are “dishonest or ignorant” about topics T1-Tn, that would go a long way towards justifying the statistical generalization I’ve dubbed CHG. This is because JM and WLC are representative of Christian apologists. (For reasons I won’t defend here, I don’t classify AP primarily as a Christian apologist.)

The Alleged Dishonesty of Atheist Apologists

So let’s turn to (d): apply the generic criteria for demonstrating dishonesty and ignorance to Chris Hallquist (CH), Keith Parsons (KP), and Richard Dawkins (RD).

Randal Rauser would need to defend an argument like this.

(5) Chris Hallquist sincerely made statement S1-Sn about topics T1-Tn.

(6) S1-Sn are false.

(7) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statements S1-Sn without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T1-Tn.

(8) Therefore, Chris Hallquist is dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

Randal would need to defend the same kind of argument concerning KP  and RD. Randal would surely say that he has defended such arguments.

Generalizing about Atheistic Apologists in General

Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that all of those arguments work: CH, KP, and RD are all “dishonest or ignorant” about one or more topics they’ve addressed. That brings us to (e). How would we justify the move from (d) to (e)? Again, the only logically correct answer would be to justify a very specific kind of premise known as a “statistical generalization.” The general form of a statistical generalization looks like this.

Z percent of F are G.

So, presumably, what Randal wants is to justify the following statistical generalization.

(RRG) Most atheist apologists are dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

Similar to what I wrote in my last comment about (CHG), the crucial issue here is whether Randal can justify generalization about “atheist apologists” on the basis of conclusions about individual apologists, such as CH, KP, and RD. (I am assuming, but only for the sake of argument, that CH, KP, and RD are primarily classified as atheist apologists.)

Chris protests that Randal’s inference to (RRG), for reductio, is unwarranted. He writes:

I certainly don’t have the stature in the atheist community that McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga have in the atheist [sic] community, and it would be a stretch to claim that Parsons does.(And yes, stature is relevant here, because

Unfortunately, it looks like Chris’s comment about the relevance of stature got cut off. But I think I can see where he is headed. Stature is relevant insofar as it is an indicator of whether an apologist is representative of the apologetics community to which they belong. And McDowell and Craig are surely representative of Christian apologists in the relevant respects.

But what about “atheist apologists”? Are CH, KP, and RD representative of atheist apologists in general? (Again, I am assuming, but only for the sake of argument, that CH, KP, and RD can be primarily categorized as atheist apologists). Chris is correct that both he and KP do not have the analogous degree of stature among atheists which JM and WLC enjoy among Christians. But, by itself, that doesn’t defeat (RRG). So I don’t see how Chris’s point about stature does anything to avoid the force of Randal’s reductio.

In my opinion, the best route for Chris to take is to deny the truth of RRG by showing it is either unjustified or by providing independent evidence that it’s false. Of course, in doing so, my prediction is that he will directly or indirectly undermine his own generalization (CHG). So Randal’s reductio will still have bite. 

What is Faith? - Part 5
Geisler & Turek Rebuttal: Chapter 9 (Part 2)
Naturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig
What is Faith - Part 6
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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