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.