Monday, February 11, 2008

Teaching Critical Thinking by Responding To Blog Comments (Part 1?)


Thank you for taking the time to send us a comment. Allow me to briefly help clarify our position and in the processes, perhaps provide for you some guidance as to how you might sharpen your skills at argumentation.

But, I'm a nihilist, and because of that, I'm frequently disregarded by anyone with any belief (such as yourselves).

Though I'm sure it plays a role, I doubt your belief in nihilism is the single or even most significant reason why people seldom take your arguments seriously. I myself considered not responding at all to your comment, because as I perceived it, you did not listen very carefully or make an effort to understand the arguments you were criticizing, and your comments expose a lack of understanding of even the most basic standards/principles of argumentation. Please believe me (or whatever the equivalent nihilistic sentiment would be) when I say that just a small amount of time invested in studying good critical thinking habits can make a great difference in your intellectual life. The quality of your critiques will be enhanced. People will take you more seriously. And you may even come to value the viewpoints of others not just your own.

Critical Thinking Tip #1 Be aware that many words have different meanings or different nuances depending on the context in which they are used. Always try carefully to understand how someone is using that word.

"Objective" Atheistic morals are as groundless as "objective" Christian morals. Objective morality is yet unknown to humanity due to the fact that omniscience hasn't been achieved as we know it. There is also the same amount of proof that god exists as there is that he doesn't.

Here you take objective to mean absolute and/or completely certain. Even Craig did not presuppose this in his argument. We defined what we meant by objective "morality can be objective in the sense of being impartial and unbiased" another (actually far more common) meaning for the word objective. Though Craig believed in Transcendent moral truths he clearly had this usage for the word "objective" in mind since he accused atheist morals as being "wholly subjective" and "arbitrary"--he did not accuse atheists of being fallible human beings or of lacking omniscience. The question again is, not are they 100% certain, but are they based on something other than just whim.

Critical Thinking Tip #2 Statements that lack clarity or are irrelevant to the matter at hand are not taken seriously. Always ask "can I state this in a manner that is more precise?" and "do my comments really address the matter at hand?"

Your first arguments are ineffective against the person from "Reasonable Faith". Any reasonable Christian will tell you that Jesus changed how sin works. All of your biblical citations are from the old testament. This just tells me that you've never argued against a reasonable Christian.

Clarity: I can only speculate as to what you intended to say here. "Jesus changed how sin works" Is too vague. Do you mean he changed our relationship to the law and what counts as obedience or sin (a Pauline view)? Or do you mean the manner in which a person acquires justification from sin (a dispensational view)? Or do you mean something deeper, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ altered the very nature of sin itself, and this change has effects which stretch both forward and backward in time, providing redemption even for those living before Christ (covenant theology, and others)? If you cannot state your criticism with any sort of clarity or precision then most will simply assume that you do not know what you are talking about.

Relevance: regardless of what exactly you meant, Jesus redemptive work has no relevance to our critique at all, nor which testament our references came from. Listen again and this time try to pay attention more carefully to the points being made. We were not claiming that old testament laws or commandments are immoral (though, they most certainly are), or that God has sinned or anything such as that. We asked, "what does it mean to say God is righteous?" We then looked for a standard or criteria to judge God as righteous or not. None was found. Our conclusion: Gods rigorousness is not intelligible (it is not something that can be understood). We discussed the Old Testament Law only because it provided the clearest articulation of what a biblical standard of righteousness might look like. We did not assume that it applied to God, or even that it should. In fact central to our argument was the idea that it could not.

This just tells me that you've never argued against a reasonable Christian

In fact this very same argument I used when talking to Apologist Stewart McAlister. McAlister earns his living traveling around the country training clergy and laymen in Christian apologetics. In a moment of real honesty and humility he told me, in person, and without qualification that he had no answer to that argument, that he realized it was a serious criticism, and that he wanted to talk to his other apologist friends to see if they could answer it. He recognized the challenge presented by this argument because he carefully listened to the argument, thought through it, looked for relevant critiques and could find none. He modeled the traits of a good thinker by preferring to honestly say that he would need more time to find a critique, rather than cooking up some vague half-baked attempt at a refutation.

Your second argument tells me you know nothing about early Christian history. There is no proof pointing either way about any of it.

Again, relevance. We were not trying to prove anything. We were answering the claim that Jesus must have been resurrected because the historical testimony is so strong in its favor that it is implausible to suggest otherwise. If you pay attention we referred to nothing outside of the biblical text itself to refute Craig's argument, we just looked at the passages and asked, "does the story appear to be contrived?". The only historical claim I could find in our entire argument regards the approximate dates concerning various manuscripts of Mark. If you would like to challenge us specifically on that point, then by all means go ahead. But I believe your mistake may be a much deeper misunderstanding of argumentation. You would do well to read about "burden of proof", "appeal to the best explanation" and various tests for assessing the strength of inferences…because you seem to be under the impression that people have to prove with 100% certainty every point or counter-point they make. You might be pleasantly surprised that our situation is not so grim after all, and that there are many methods of both justifying and refuting claims that do not require humans to be infallible.

Critical Thinking Tip #3 Avoid melodramatic musings on how inferior your intellectual opponent is, or how easily you have vanquished their arguments. It makes you appear childish and gives the impression that you are overcompensating when debating with an opponent superior skill (which in this case is true).

You could have attacked the assumptions he makes in his premises, but no, you remain as deluded as your "bizarro" counterpart by even accepting that objective morality is known to exist

Come on Anton, are we in middle school all over again? Perhaps you found us annoying. That’s fine. But please be aware that you can take playful jabs at someone while still being respectful overall in your tone (such as in my response to you).

In conclusion Anton, Id like to recommend some books that might help you get your intellectual career off the ground.

Critical Thinking: An Introduction By Alec Fisher

The Art of Deception by Capaldi

Or if reading 'aint yo thang' there is a great audio course called Argumentation: The study of effective reasoning which can be purchased from The Teaching Company or you can download a pirated copy from any decent bittorrent site.

Thanks again for listening and I hope this has been educational


Co-host of Reasonable Doubts


Anonymous said...

That was quite the intellectual smiting of Anton's ass. Keep up the good work Jeremy. Your eccentric and random friend Joe.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anton,
Jeremy & the guys may not be in middle school anymore, but I still am, so > neener! neener! neener! You got told! neener!neener!neener!

Anonymous said...

that was BAD-ASS. This Jeremy fellow is like a cross between Christopher Hitchens and a special education teacher.

Fletcher said...

"This Jeremy fellow is like a cross between Christopher Hitchens and a special education teacher."

That is the best thing anyone has ever said. I think, in fact, it should be added into (or take the place of) Jeremy's contributor profile.