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Apologists: lessons in how not to read

At some point, when time allows, I’ll share with you the extent of the confusion Christian apologists labour under. To generalise, this is a group that imagines themselves as Christian philosophers, and who take on the challenge of defending their belief system through what they imagine to be rational argumentation. Some even actively engage, and attempt to refute, arguments they encounter on non-theistic websites. Unfortunately, most of these non-theistic websites do civilization no favours themselves, as their rabid athiesm leads them to offer arguments nearly as poor as those of the theists. But sometimes the apologists don’t even bother trying to argue – they simply lie.

Consider this post by Dana on her blog Principled Discovery. Now, you’d imagine that “principled” discovery involved some principles, and it seems fair to say that the principles of debate include treating the evidence fairly. I’ll ignore her misprepresentations of evolutionary theory, and focus on her misrepresentations of my Chastity Balls post.


She says:

Effective or not, what about promoting chastity is an “evil to be rooted out?”

But I said (4th comment):

Yes, we may all have dogmas, but some of us believe they are evils to be rooted out, rather than virtues to be cherished.

A classic instance of straw man, as no-one who is paying the slightest bit of attention could miss the fact that I’m saying dogmas are evil – not the promotion of chastity.


She says:

And what on earth has it to do with social engineering?

But I said:

The fundamentalist machine of Christianity – and its attendant programme of social engineering – is gathering pace at an alarming rate.

Again straw man, in that I claim that the fundamentalist machine is accompanied by a programme of social engineering, rather than the promotion of chastity being a form of social engineering itself. And notice the unintended consequence of her sentence: in trying to refute me, she now rules out the possibility of promoting chastity being a form of social engineering. And given that the motivation of promoting chastity – and purity balls – is to increase the likelihood of desired family values being adopted (and also to decrease the spread of STD’s, etc.), it seems quite odd to insist that it has nothing to do with social engineering, when that’s exactly what the programme is meant to accomplish…


She says:

I’m inferring here that one MUST be sexually active prior to marriage in order to escape life as one of the “socially retarded.”

I said:

Unless you manage to keep your (now socially retarded) child in familiar surrounds, surrounded by equally socially-retarded friends, they’re basically being set up for some form of world-view collapse at some point in their future.

A sincere reader would have read the piece I link to in the post under discussion. Once they had done so, they would understand that it’s the method of, and motivation for, promoting chastity that I argue can cripple human beings intellectually. I never claimed that being sexually active decreases your chances of being socially retarded – it’s more accurate to summarise my point as being something like: “being brainwashed into adopting moral views on the basis of specious and often contradictory evidence can contribute to social retardation”.


So it seems we have 3 possibilities:

  1. That Dana is wilfully misrepresenting me, in order to “win” a staged battle and thus “prove” that my post was nonsensical. This wouldn’t be very Christian of her, so let’s imagine that it’s not the case.
  2. Dana sincerely believes that she’s being fair to my post. Given how blatant her misreadings are, it would be quite sad if this were true. But having frequently observed how dogma can blind one to reason, this may be the most likely scenario.
  3. That Dana is actually a mole, who is infiltrating the apologist circles in order to destroy them from the inside. Seeing as it’s very difficult to mimic the careful arrangement of misreadings and logical fallacies they specialise in, it wouldn’t be surprising that this attempt of hers would be somewhat transparent, especially if she was only recently tasked with her mission.

To conclude, in utter seriousness: the tagline of “Principled Discovery” is from Psalms 11:3. It reads: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?”. The answer seems clear, at least on the evidence of Dana’s blog – they lie.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.

3 replies on “Apologists: lessons in how not to read”

Wow. That’s an awful lot to take from a very small part of a post that admittedly didn’t have much to do with yours. I don’t really remember why I even chose to include it anymore, but that is neither here nor there. I apologize for having offended you and certainly did not intentionally misrepresent anything. That is why I included the link and a minimal amount of information that might hopefully lead someone to actually read the post in question rather than just take my first-impresssion type thoughts on the matter. It certainly was in no way intended to be a linear argumentation of the points…I didn’t take enough space in the entry to do that.

Let me enlighten you slightly into how I read this:

You start with the statement about social engineering and go straight into the chastity balls. I infer from that that this general theme of promoting chastity is your example of “The fundamentalist machine of Christianity – and its attendant programme of social engineering…”

Next point that I considered interesting as it stands directly in contrast to my worldview:

“One also fears more generally for the impact these movements have on the person’s ability to develop into an effective human being,…”

I realize that you are talking about a broader movement here, but the example you have given us is chastity. So I INFER (that means that is what I gathered from it, not necessarily what you meant) that chastity, ie., saving one’s self sexually is making one socially retarded.

As to the article you linked to, it is a bit too sexualized to take seriously from someone who does promote chastity and modesty in our home and plans to do so in future. As most of my readers do, as well. And in all honesty, I read this as further evidence that what you are essentially saying is that a person must engage in premarital sex in order to escape being “socially retarded.” At least marital bliss seems to come only from playing around before marriage.

From the article, regarding those who save themselves for marriage:

“Voilà, the standard recipe for emotional, physical and spiritual catastrophe, for roughly 17 years of vague marital misery capped off by divorce and much therapy and four unhappy children and the profound and aching need located somewhere deep beneath the pelvic bone to try something, anything new and different and sexually liberating.”

As to your three possible conclusions about what my purposes are, I think you left out at least one conclusion that more accurately reflects my stance.

1) I did not view myself in any sort of a battle, staged or not. I wasn’t trying to prove your post as nonsensical or anything else. If I had desired that, I would have lined out my post more like yours, ie., quoted you and then responded. But I wans’t dissecting your post and not particularly trying to debate you on the topic. I was only drawing attention to your post.

2) Um…no, I wasn’t being particularly fair to your post. I linked to it and offered kind of vague criticism of it because I was hoping my readers, would go to your post and read it for themselves.

3) A mole? Odd one there, but I think you’re joking : )

And, for the fourth, that is closer to my actual intention. I read your post, found it well written enough to take seriously and wished to draw attention to an opposing viewpoint.

By the way, “straw man” is more of a debate term and it is largely irrelevant since I wasn’t debating you. I would never have thought that the general tone of that brief little paragraph would have led anyone to believe I was trying to debate the subject of chastity or any other. I did not make one point or argument that refuted anything you said, making the claim a bit of a stretch.

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