When I have had a question about biology, physics, or some other subject for which I couldn’t find an answer on my own, I would make an appointment with a teacher at my university to talk about it. Though issues of science are certainly beholden to their fair share of jargon, the teachers I spoke with knew I was not a scientist and would use language they knew I could understand. Their goal was to communicate.
In my life, experts from every discipline have understood that using jargon-heavy language with people who are not part of their field is a poor way to communicate. This fact seems obvious. The only subject I’ve found where people fail to grasp this simple concept is in the field of philosophy. And never is it so prevalent as with religious ‘philosophers’.
I use quotes on the word ‘philosophers’ to denote a specific group of people. I have had meetings with my philosophy professors (Michael Boyle at Missouri State was instrumental in my understanding of Wittgenstein and Cartesian Philosophy) and have had conversations with prominent members of the field such as Richard Carrier and John Corvino that changed my mind and helped me to further appreciate the subject. These people seem to get it. The ‘philosophers’ I refer to tend to be non-majors or undergrads who seem to be less interested in helping others to understand their position and more interested in cowing the other half of the conversation and thereby ‘winning’. Their long-winded descants are often accompanied by sneers of condescension at the lack of rigorous study of their opponents.
Enter one such ‘philosopher’ I responded to earlier today. Jonathan asserted at one point:
Truth is, unless one has undoubtedly stood in the face of the Almighty, none of us have absolute evidence to the existence or non-existence of God.
I rebutted via substitution logic.
Truth is, unless one has undoubtedly stood in the face of
the Almighty Spiderman, none of us have absolute evidence to the existence or non-existence of God Spiderman.
Is this a good reason to believe in Spiderman? No. Is it a good reason to think that anybody claiming that belief in Spiderman is justified is anything other than out of their mind? No. Presented with this statement, the response is obvious: there isn’t any evidence of Spiderman, and so no sane person should believe in him! The same is true of god.
Jonathan came storming into the comments defending the existence of Spiderman using all the jargon in the universe. Though he was defending a positively idiotic position, I guess he thought the use of polysyllabic words earned him the right to be taken seriously. It doesn’t. Another ‘philosopher’ came in afterward insisting that because I brushed off the guy insisting Spiderman exists, that I needed to sell myself to him as an academic. This puts me in the interesting situation of having to choose the best application of my time: either engaging with somebody who thinks Spiderman is real and trying to prove myself to someone else for whose opinion of me I have no respect, or giving myself a paper cut all evening. I hope I made the right decision.
Perhaps these people are just trolling and, if so, this is why Poe’s Law exists. But Jonathan certainly seemed serious on my facebook wall and, if he is a troll, he’s a troll who doesn’t place a premium on his time (which is not unheard of).
The blame, I’m sure, will be cast at the non-‘philosopher’ (as it usually is) for their failure to comprehend, as though the ‘philospher’s’ goal had been to communicate effectively the entire time. Or, the other half of the conversation will call it a day (which is precisely what I did), and the ‘philosopher’ will take the other person’s unwillingness to spend an inordinate amount of time carving through all the jargon not as a sign that the ‘philosopher’ sucks at communication, but as a victory – since the other half clearly doesn’t want to tussle with so much academic muscle. It’s a level of arrogance unmatched even by people believing the architect of the cosmos takes a personal interest in their lives.
These people are so often the religious ‘philosopher’, but there are a fair number of them on the atheist side as well. The goal never seems to be to communicate, but rather to posture. They’re all annoying, they’re all pretentious, and they should all be summarily ignored regardless of what they believe about the existence of god until they are forced to either keep the company of only other ‘philosophers’ or learn how to discourse like 99% of the population (like the experts in other fields).
Because I was hip deep in the atheism v. theism debate, I took a few philosophy courses in college and enjoyed them thoroughly. The teachers were fantastic and it redeemed philosophy for me, which is good, because most of the ‘philosophers’ I’d met in my life had previously ruined the subject for me. I find philosophy to be a fascinating subject, but I have a more charitable attitude toward hangovers than I do for amateur ‘philosophers’.