More Fun with Karl and Joe

See Karl.

Karl Giberson and colleague Randall J. Stephens say that the Earth is more than 10,000 years old. They say that humans and dinosaurs did not live together. They say that America’s founders were not evangelical Christians and that Christianity is not established as America’s official religion. They say that heterosexuality is not a choice.

They also say that these aren’t just their opinions. They insist that these are “facts,” and that facts such as these are true whether or not we want them to be.

Rejecting facts, they say, facts supported by evidence and proof, is a rejection of reason.

See Joe.

Joe Carter says this makes Giberson and Stephens “fundamentalists” who “simply outsource [their] thinking to whatever experts have been approved by the New York Times.” Giberson and Stephens, Carter says, have not “bothered to think for themselves (or at least do their homework).”

If they had thought for themselves and done their homework, Carter says, they would have learned that what they regard as facts are matters of dispute and valid contention with no settled answers one way or the other. Giberson and Stephens only think these things are facts, Carter says, because they are  not “capable of a rational evaluation of their own biases” and “they are simply parroting the liberal secular line because it will impress readers of the NYT.”

If that sounds a great deal like Charles Fort’s critique of the “priestcraft” of science, that’s because it is. (And if that also sounds like a nasty diatribe written by someone who has forfeited any right to complain about uncharitable readings, that’s because it’s that, too, in a big way.)

Here’s Carter:

According to Giberson and Stephens, you might be an anti-intellectual fundamentalist if you are an evangelical who: dismisses evolution as “an unproven theory”; deny [sic] that “climate change is real and caused by humans”; think[s] that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation”; defend[s] spanking children; believe[s] in traditional roles for the sexes; think[s] that reparative therapy can “cure” homosexuality; and/or oppose[s] gay marriage.

Most evangelicals who read that list would agree with some and disagree with others. The responses would vary because most of us evangelicals have been taught to think for themselves.

Carter is trying to muddy the waters there by including the bits about spanking, traditional gender roles and same-sex marriage. Giberson and Stephens don’t argue that these are matters of fact, but they note that many evangelicals who believe in anti-factual claims use those claims to support those positions.

But it remains clear what Carter says there. He says, explicitly, that it is right and good and appropriate to “agree with some and disagree with other” items in that list. He does not suggest that some particular items in the list are rightly agreed with while others are rightly disagreed with.

That only makes sense if these things in this list are not objective facts but merely subjective preferences. That only makes sense if, for any given particular from that list, “agree” and “disagree” are equally valid choices.

That only makes sense if facts and truth are subjective matters of opinion.

Did he say that in those words? No, and I’m sure he doesn’t believe any such thing. But that didn’t stop him from making such logic the cornerstone of his nasty hatchet-job on Giberson and Stephens.

This becomes clearer if we focus on just a single item from Carter’s list. The following paragraph is distilled from Carter’s muddier version. This is not a verbatim quote, but it in no way alters the logic or meaning of his argument in the paragraphs quoted above:

According to Giberson and Stephens, you might be an anti-intellectual fundamentalist if you think that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation.” Some evangelicals who read that would agree and some would disagree. The responses would vary because most of us evangelicals have been taught to think for ourselves.

Again, that argument only makes sense if you regard the proposition that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation” as something other than a fact — as something that cannot be investigated, examined, looked up, verified or falsified, proved or disproved.

Carter’s argument does not make a lick of sense unless you accept that there is no right or wrong answer, that it is equally valid to agree or disagree.

Now, as it happens, Joe Carter has since assured us that he does believe there is a right and a wrong answer for this particular proposition. He now tells us that he agrees with Giberson and Stephens that the claim that “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation” is, in fact, false.

Glad to hear it. Glad, but confused. Carter agrees with Giberson and Stephens that Bartonesque history is factually wrong. But he apparently still disagrees with them that clinging to ideas shown to be factually wrong constitutes a rejection of reason.

OK, then. I would try to make sense of that, but one thing I’ve learned today is that if you try to make sense out of Joe Carter’s arguments you’ll wind up being accused of all sorts of awful things.

  • Anonymous

    Most two to five year olds are simply not capable of moral reasoning on
    an abstract level.  They have a fairly simple “things which get me
    punished I shouldn’t do” level of moral know how.

    No, you’re wrong.  Kids (and adults) don’t respond well to physical punishment, and kids are capable of abstract reasoning at a very young age.  Both of your premises are wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I think that part of the issue is that kids will tend to behave at the level that an adult expects them to behave at.  If you take a “kids will be kids” philosophy, then those kids will act like you expect them to.  However, if you make it clear that you respect those children and expect them to live up to the respect you place in them, you will find them being more restrained and respectful in turn.  

    I could also say the same of adults, but I think it is much more important in children as their identities are still crystalizing, while adults tend to be more set.  

    But explain abstract concepts to children, give them the benefit of the doubt about what they are capable of understanding.  Maybe they will not understand yet, it might confuse them, but just having that information available early will help them to come to an understanding later.  If nothing else, trusting them with concepts that might be above their ability to understand is still better than assuming they have no ability to understand in the first place.  

  • Anonymous

    Except adults do exactly that kind of bargaining all the time. If you don’t work overtime, you won’t get that raise you want! If you don’t do your half of the housework, you’re going to have a pretty cranky spouse! It’s just that much of the bargaining is internal. You know the consequences of actions or lack of actions unlike children who have to have it made more explicit … and who are fortunately happy with an ice cream reward.

  • Ursula L

    Most two to five year olds are simply not capable of moral reasoning on an abstract level.  They have a fairly simple “things which get me punished I shouldn’t do” level of moral know how.  This isn’t casting aspersion on kids – it’s simply the way kids are.  You SHOULD talk to your kids about why it’s not okay to hurt other people, but you should also punish them for it – since that’s the stage of moral development that most toddlers operate at.  I mean Kohlberg has it’s problems but it’s not totally out in left field.  Trying to explain the principle of least harm to your four year is like rubbing your dog’s nose in it’s mess.  They just ain’t gonna get it.

    That’s demonstrably not true. 

    My nieces are 2 1/2 and 6 months.  While the 2 1/2 year old isn’t quite ready to grasp “sharing”, she’s learned quite easily that if she wants to play with a toy her little sister is playing with, then she needs to offer her sister a toy the little one will like, in exchange.  The 6 month old, being 6 months, is quite happy as long as she has something she likes.
     
    So even when too young to really manage to play together, my older niece has learned that she needs to be considerate of her sister, and to pay attention to what her sister likes and to help keep everyone in the family happy.  Her moral reasoning is simple, but it has nothing at all to do with fear of punishment.  During their last visit, when she wanted to play with her sister’s toy, she went to the toy box, finds a suitable toy, held it up and told me “P**** likes this one!” then held the toy to her sister who took it, and then and only then she took the toy she wanted.

    Making rules being about positives instead of negatives takes some creativity, but it does work.   “You do things that help keep you, and everyone around you, happy and healthy and safe and sound” covers almost any situation a small child can find themself in, and it provides a starting point for learning morals as a positive thing rather than a series of “don’ts.” 

  • Theo

    … oh, wait, you were talking about spanking children?  What kind of sicko would do that?

    This. Spanking is one of those things you do to consenting adults.


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