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Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I have just noticed a comment by 'Crude' on Feser's blog that I wish to share with Gentle Reader:

Jime: " Atheist apologists like Hitchens possibly know that too (otherwise, they would't defend the argument of evil against theism), but they try to hide that in order to avoid the burden of proof of their own atheistic positions.

No philosopher would be taken in by that debating trick.

[The "that" which Jime is saying Hitchens probably does know is that the popularly asserted conception that "You can't prove a negative" isn't actually, in the technical sense of the word (*), true.]

Crude: I think you're giving too much credit to philosophers - plenty of them get sandbagged, let inanities pass, etc. But I agree that the argument about who has what onus is often far less about truth or reasonableness, as opposed to rhetorical maneuvering. "Debating tricks" as you say.

My own anecdotal experience is this: People who pride themselves on being skeptics typically hate, absolutely hate, being on defense. The fun of skepticism is being able to take aim at claims and see how much damage you can do - or how much damage you can appear to do. At worst, one of your attacks won't do much damage, one of your charges won't stick. But otherwise, the only thing that can happen is your target can be worse for wear.

Being on defense for a belief, though? That's a different matter entirely. Now you're the one being taken aim at. The best that can happen is you stand up to the attacks. Otherwise, the only place to go is down. Now, there's plenty of people willing to do this normally - they have a belief they wish to defend, etc. But if your primary wish isn't to defend any particular belief but just cripple ones you dislike, well.. why bother?

I'd say it's the difference between boxing and beating up someone you dislike. If all you want to is the latter, the former's something to avoid. If you just dislike someone and want to do them harm, why box if you can help it? Why let them hit back? Better to hit with no risk to yourself.
This observation seems to me especially pertinent of the persons (nearly always, or so it seems, God-haters) who engage in selective hyper-skepticism (an example of which is here).

(*) the technical sense of the word 'true' -- this is me mocking one of Hitchens' ploys (as transcribed here) in the debate the thread is about:
Hitchens: I can make a statement of objective truth easily enough, as can you. But can you make a statement of absolute truth? While we wait?
Haldane: If you say give us an example of something that might be an absolute truth -- maybe we share this but on a different foundation -- that something like, "Human life, innocent human life, is something to be respected and not violated."

Hitchens: That's a PRECEPT, not a truth.

Haldane (hesitatingly): Well I'm not sure what you're taking that difference to be...

Hitchens: Well, innocent humans die in the millions every year for no reason than they're born to a primate species on a very harsh planet. We can't say we DISLIKE that.

Haldane: That's a description of what might happen. Mine was a claim about what we ought or ought not to do. But look, I mean--

Hitchens: That is not a state--what you just said is in NO way a truth statement...NO SENSE a truth statement.
My response would have been, "There is no such thing as a 'relative truth'" -- that would have been proffered both as an example of an "absolute truth" and as a rebuttal/rebuke of Hitchens' intentional obfuscation about truth.