The How Dare You Move

I’m interested in this habit of theists and – what to call them – fellow-travelers of theists. People who aren’t theists themselves, but get all riled up at ‘materialist’ positivist etc etc etc arguments, and pitch fits about them. (Not Norm, of course! This is a different subject entirely.) The habit they have is to resort to a certain kind of moral outrage, and while doing that, to distort quite thoroughly what the posito-materialists say.

The certain kind of moral outrage in question is to say (in one way or another) ‘Are you calling me stupid?’

The thought seems to go like this (I say seems because they always leave out a lot of steps, so trying to figure out how they get from where we start to where they end up is part of the subject here): X is saying there is no good reason to believe God exists. X seems to think this is true. I think this is not true. Therefore, X thinks I’m stupid. Many other people also think this is not true. Therefore, X thinks they are all stupid. Therefore, X thinks she is better than everyone else. Therefore, X is arrogant, and trying to tell everyone what to do, and will prevent theist philosophers from getting job interviews.’

Now, the problem with this, as I see it, is that it often happens in the course of discussion, that one person will think one thing and another will think something else. X will think something is true, and Y will think it is not. Is the right move then for them to accuse each other of superiority and arrogance and trying to tell everyone what to do? Sometimes, no doubt; sometimes that is just the ticket, and ends the evening on gales of friendly laughter; but always? I would have thought no.

To put it another way, it ought to be possible, among grownups, to argue for an opinion without being told, simply because one has argued for it, that one is therefore judging everyone who doesn’t agree to be one’s intellectual inferior. Why do I think that ought to be possible? Because if it’s not, all discussion that is not of the most anodyne kind will grind to a halt, and we’ll all fall over and die of boredom. Or else the people who make this argument will be revealed as self-pitying passive-aggressive whiny bedwetters, and they will wish they had left well enough alone. That would be quite a good outcome, actually. I’ll give you an example from comments here, because I found it quite striking and exemplary [I’ll put the missing spaces in, because it’s so annoying to read without them]:

It seems to me that the tenor of Ophelia’s argument which centres on the truth about religion, intellectually arrived at, and therefore necessarily exposing the falsehood of religious belief, implies that in the future a would-be candidate for a professorship in philosophy whose writings argue strongly against OB’s views, would on that basis alone, judged to be the intellectual inferior of someone holding OB’s views.

See – the trouble with that is that it just boils down to saying X shouldn’t try to figure out the truth about religion, intellectually, and expose the [possible] falsehood of religious belief, because – that implies that in the future anyone who writes the opposite would be judged (by whom? when? how?) X’s intellectual inferior. I think the ludicrousness of that is obvious enough that I won’t bother to elaborate on it.

But it’s interesting, because symptomatic. That is of course what the O’Reilly-Limbaugh crowd (and the Pat Robertson crowd, and the similar crowds) are doing when they bark and gibber about elitists sneering at people of faith. It’s a moral blackmail move, and unfortunately, it works all too well. So it’s worth being presented with a particularly blunt and blatant example of it, so that we can see what it amounts to.

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