How and Why Discussions With Agnostics and Atheists Often (Sadly) Collapse / The Many Logical Fallacies of Ed Babinski and Friends (Was [and occasionally still touches upon]: Discussion on the Psalms)
Here's the latest development in this strange exchange, with yet more parties entering in (as I said, "make yourself at home"). Sharon Mooney, Ed's webmaster, has now started writing to me. Her words will be in green:
[E-mail of 12-22-04]
Months ago I requested of Ed, if he were engaging in correspondence, to please let me know about it, so that it might end up on his site. Namely, because I'm not a mind reader, and having no way to know what he's posted around the internet. It may seem simple to you that he would post on your blog -- and that all his acquaintances visit and read, if so, you can't appreciate my/our schedule. Speaking for myself, normally, I am in college, and sometimes it is weeks that I'll save an email (article) from Ed, before I get it on the web. I'm out of college right now for break, but using the time to catch up on other work. I asked him specifically to forward or carbon copy me everything he writes that qualifies for web material (even the seemingly insignificant stuff). You probably want skeptics to read your web page I presume, then how would they know about it, unless carbon copied in an email? I've been distracted by a good number of other issues, and haven't had time to focus on Ed's debate with you -- not yet, not right now, though I did get one web page on the site yesterday.
I have no problem with this. That's fine. What I object to is this impromptu gathering of critics, who prefer to talk about me and at me, rather than directly to me (not to mention all the unnecessary put-downs and insults -- the inevitable ad hominem attacks, in full force here). You (as far as I know) did not participate in that sort of thing, so my remarks had nothing to do with you. If Ed posts this (via you, as webmaster), wonderful. That's more than I can say for most of my dialogical opponents. I'm delighted if that many more agnostics and atheists can read my arguments. Thanks!
It seems to me if you had the intention of being fair you'd do it with your blog or by email. Already from the first paragraph of reading, it's apparent to me, you're being quite biased.
I see, but of course, Ed and the "Group" are not doing that at all, in their numerous fallacious digressions and non sequiturs, as I have been chronicling.
I plan to get the correspondence between yourself and Ed on his site, if he still wants it that way. But if you insist on being unfair, I don't know that Ed or myself would care.
Yes, I know the feeling, believe me, except that I post what happens regardless of the outcome. That's what free speech and the open exchange of competing ideas and facilitation of critical thinking in the undecided is about.
If you wanted to do the right thing you'd remove that web page you sent us the URL to and start over again with something a lot more polite. Ed is far too nice of a person for the way you're criticizing him in that web page.
I'm sure Ed is very nice. I've always found him to be so, personally. My objection is strictly to how this dialogue is proceeding methodologically. It's not personal. It's based on notions of fair play and consideration of the other, benefit of the doubt, and those sorts of concepts that I have always assumed and believed are common to atheists and Christians alike, as they are fundamental. When one sees the sort of things I am accused of, or compared to (which have nothing to do with the argument at hand), then all of a sudden, this nice man, Ed, has become a little bit not-nice insofar as his rather insulting assumptions about me, a Christian, are concerned. I haven't done that to him. As a prominent example, note how Ed condescendingly characterizes me, as if I am a mindless, intellectually bankrupt special pleader, because I believe in biblical inspiration:
The point is that Dave adores the Bible it is his beloved, a letter from God. He will defend it all, from Eden to the Flood, from the tower of Babel to the slaughter of the Canaanites, with poetry, hyperbole, and metaphor if he has to, in fact, anyway he can, to make even the vilest shit in it smell like it should be served at communion to the heavenly choir. Therefore, you can't really argue with a person whose perception is that caught up in a single book.
Or how about this gem of strikingly prejudicial, sweeping observation about all Christians, not just myself (as a proud member of that class):
Religion is a puddle from which a gnat may drink and in which an elephant may bathe. And even the weakest disputant is made so conceited by what he calls religion, as to think himself wiser than the wisest who thinks differently from him.
Try to imagine, Sharon, if these sentiments were flipped over and applied to you as an agnostic (or whatever you are; I don't know). Would you continue to say that I am the only one being unfair and impolite? This is clearly poisoning the well; a classic, textbook case (as I clearly demonstrated, right from Copi). This sort of thing is the real "vile (manure)" that is going on here . . .
The next e-mail -- also of 12-22-04 -- was sent by Sharon just to Ed and I. Since she considered it "private," I won't cite it, but I will summarize it as her questioning whether our dialogue should be put on his website because of my alleged lack of politeness and supposed slandering of Ed as "dishonest" in debate (I did no such thing). My last response was described as "awful" and her decision to post or not was conditioned upon removing it. The next letter on the same day informed the "Group" that there was one posted section now on Ed's website concerning our discussion. This section is entitled Dave Armstrong Correspondence. It states a falsehood about me (only slightly qualified, but clearly believed by Sharon herself, in her correspondence), thus poisoning the well before anyone reads a word: "This section of Ed's site was set up following a visit to Dave Armstrong's blog, which appears to malign Ed as employing dishonest debate tactics."
The first link on this page is called Dave Armstrong - Edward Babinski debate at Dave's blog site, and features the following (I think, congenial and fair) introduction from Ed which seems to suggest that he has not found me as "impolite" as his webmaster Sharon has:
Catholic convert and web-pologist Dave Armstrong has produced a massive pro-Catholic website over the years. The story of his conversion to Catholicism appears in a bestselling book of similar converts (mostly former Protestantism I think), and he has published numerous books of Catholic apologetics, all available at amazon.com, that strive to make Catholicism and its various unique doctrines and practices appear in as rational a light as possible, as well as having published in-depth counters to both Protestantism and Modernism. Dave recently composed a long web piece at his blog-site criticizing one of my shorter pieces on the psalms. He continues to write in a pretty friendly fashion and invite my response, as well as the responses of any readers of the debate, and he publishes them all at his blog-site. Most folks who read Dave's blog are Christians and respond in kind. His blog could probably use just a few non-Christian responses or even moderate Christian responses from moderate Christian university profs, to balance matters out a tad.
I agree! Note that I have repeatedly invited Ed and even his friends to come onto my blog and comment and engage in a real conversation with a real Christian. They can outnumber me ten-to-one if that is what it takes, I don't care; the more the merrier (though, again, I find this to be a dubious method of discourse when a supposed one-on-one dialogue is occurring). But thus far, they have not, preferring to chat amongst themselves and to send me the third-person observations about me. I find this less-than-ideal or (if you will) "polite" dialogue method. It's fine if observers want to enter in, but they should talk directly to me, not about me. That's the distinction I object to. I urge both agnostics and "moderate" (i.e., liberal) Christians to come around and dialogue on my blog. The water's warm, and we don't bite.
The second page featuring our debate is called Biblical Mercy, and features Ed's patented mile-long digressions into subject matter not directly on-topic. But that's fine, as long as I don't have to deal with the digressions (I skipped over most of them because I am pretty strict about sticking to the subject, and will not be distracted, because I think that considerably lowers the fruitfulness of a discussion). But Ed's posting of his complete epic-length replies allows people to see a sadly typical agnostic conversational ploy (as I have debated many in my time and can speak from experience): hitting a Christian with 50 things from the Bible at once, as if this offers some bogus appearance of strength. This is, in fact, not a matter of strength or weakness of argument or evidence at all, on either side, but about how one person can only do so much at a time, and how dialogue (like any college course) can only progress if it is narrowed down. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but, I think, quite justified, and not at all unreasonable or over-demanding.
The short page Psalm 91 features a little snippet of our dialogue. The introduction on the main point misses what I was trying to accomplish in my replies and distorts my argument: "Inappropriate Psalm used at the funeral of a woman who died young which promises 'long life' as part of Jehovah's favor -- none of which Becca received. Dave refused to address Ed's questions which were on topic, and relevant."
To which I say, "hogwash!" I urge other biblical skeptics and agnostics to read my response. Perhaps they can offer a counter-reply that Ed has yet to produce. But I directly addressed his concerns, and defeated them, as far as I'm am concerned.
The next page, Thoughts on the Psalms, is introduced with a similarly jaded and wildly distorted comment, which only proves that Sharon either didn't read my response, or never understood the very nature of it: "Psalms and the foolish concept that worshipping Jehovah and alone Jehovah will guarantee a long fruitful life vs. a short non-prosperous one." I specifically made arguments showing that the Bible did not take this simplistic view that Ed attributes to it. Phil (here in brown; previously green) seems to think I am polite enough, contra Sharon's impressions:
Well, if we're grading, I would give both of you "A's" for "amiability, " impassioned and thought provoking discussions. I would give an "F" to the guy who sent you (Ed) the "burn in hell" hate mail posted on your site . . .
So would I. I know nothing about it. But I detest such rhetoric, and almost always regard it as arrogant and judgmental. We're not God. We don't know who will be damned. Then Thomas Cook (purple) adds (followed by Ed's comment):
Ed, Armstrong and his gang are just too mean! Talk origins is propaganda? Why isn't the stuff they write considered propaganda? I thought none of the Christians treated you with kindness. Every response was belittling to you. Perhaps Steve could also take them on? Is he still debating with Turkel? Are you going to continue to reply to Armstrong?
I thought it was interesting that in his first reply to me, Dave began with this line: "Ed's skeptical take on this is clear already: God's promises are null and void, and obviously vacant: just look at this poor woman; she was a Christian, and trusted God, but did that help her? No! Quite the contrary. God didn't do a darned thing to save her . . . Etc." Dave begins by picturing me as questioning "God," when I never said that I believed "God" wrote the psalms. I was contrasting what Psalm 91 said and promised (whether the psalms and their promises were inspired by "God" or not is another question), with what actually happened to Becca. Dave's response seems to have demonstrated Christianity's built-in defense system at work, namely that if you question the meaning, propriety, overblown pomposity/hyperbole, interpretation, or intent of a Biblical work or writer, then you are directly questioning "God" Himself.
Sheer nonsense. Ed thoroughly misunderstands the nature of my response. Of course he doesn't believe in God; he is an agnostic. What I assumed in my response is that Ed is making an argument from internal inconsistency and absurdity (a sort of reductio ad absurdum). So when I mention "God" in this context, it is as an agnostic or atheist talks about God (and they do, quite a bit, even though they don't believe in Him, and it is in precisely this sense). So again, Ed assumes I am far more ignorant than I am. In fact, my thought-process here was much more sophisticated and familiar with philosophical argument and logic than he seems to have been aware. Hopefully, now he will understand these types of statements in context. I understand full well that Ed's attempt is to paint the Psalms as incoherent, absurd, and (overall) unworthy of belief. My argument was that this was not the case, and that Ed misconstrued rather simple factors in how to interpret such literature and how in fact, the Jews historically did interpret it. Does Ed really believe I am so stupid and unfamiliar with agnostic reasoning vis-a-vis the Bible, that I would actually think either that (1) he believed in God, or (2) he believed that God wrote the Psalms? If so, then I confess that I am dumbfounded at how far off the mark he is in grasping how I argue, and what I know. But stranger things have happened. Ed reiterates the obvious (that skeptics like him are "sure" the Bible is stock-full of contradictions and moral monstrosities):
A long-time friend of mine, Bruce Wildish, who has studied theology (though he is not a theologian), had a discussion with me years ago about certain broad differences between the theological views found in different parts of the Hebrew Bible, differences that Dave might disagree exist, or attempt to harmonize away, but which seem plain to a lot of religion professors whom Bruce has read. Whether or not you believe in "God" is not the point. The point is that the Bible remains a book whose origin and interpretations remain contested even by the world's greatest living religion professors.
The point is that we would expect these divergent interpretations, for a variety of reasons. But the bottom line is that one's presuppositions have a lot to do with how one approaches the text. The agnostic usually approaches the Bible the way a butcher approaches a hog, whereas the Christian approaches it the way that a music lover or orchestra musician or conductor views Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart.That's a world of difference. And while I freely admit that this predisposition causes a considerable bias in favor of a harmonious Bible, and hence, some special pleading and bad arguments too often among Christians, I rarely see agnostics admitting that their predisposition of hostility to the Bible often wreaks havoc on the logic or plausibility of their interpretations. Beyond that, they usually try to set forth the pretense that they know far more about the Bible than we Christians who have intensely studied it for many years (27, in my case). And that is a double standard. I freely admit that everyone is biased, and that it is foolish to deny it. But it doesn't follow that this precludes all intelligent biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, on either side. Bias is the human condition, and we will never get rid of it. I generally think agnostic biblical analysis is atrocious and filled with basic errors of fact and logic (Ed's included, in the present case), but it doesn't have to be (just by virtue of being what it is). Ed then cites Bruce, giving the usual anthropological-type, modernist take on the Old Testament. While worthy of a long discussion itself, such topical material is off the subject. I find it humorous that when I was actually on-topic, discussing how to properly interpret Psalms, Ed accused me of not answering him. But he seems to think that soliloquies about the broad range of Old Testament literature (when coming from a fellow agnostic) are quite on-subject.
More thoughts on the Psalms and God's Will feature sections that I have already included in my version of the dialogue (and replied to -- when on-topic). Agnosticism and the Christian World View consists mostly of rabbit trails. I've dealt with whatever part of it was relevant. What Catholics once Believed offers a litany of untold horrors in that religion. What this has to do with our topic remains a mystery to me. But I suppose it could be utilized as a variant of the Genetic Fallacy: "Dave is a Catholic. Catholics believe weird things, now and in the past. Therefore, we can dismiss Dave's arguments and not deal with them rationally, without fallacies and obfuscation such as this." Profound reasoning, isn't it?
The web page Bibles offers more endless tidbits and anecdotes apparently thought to be collectively damning to the rationality and believability of Christianity, but off-topic. And we have more non sequitur and noncomprehension of my arguments:
Ah yes, Phil, as you say, the need to be right. Men will die simply for ideas, and the need to justify their own, either with words or swords. I could say that Dave was the first to fire the long shot over my bow, responding to something I wrote and telling me that I was "questioning God!" I know what I was doing, and it had as little to do with "God" as I believe that particular psalm did. To Dave I am questioning "God," but in my opinion, no one has yet shown that "God" is the author of everything in the Bible. Not even moderate Christians believe that.
This silly business that I was somehow assuming that Ed believed in God or was arguing against Him has been dealt with above. Hopefully, he will "get" this now. He is just making himself look silly, the more he pursues this felt "zinger" that is 100% off-mark.
Phil chimes in with more ad hominem mockery:
He did indeed "draw you out" (as if you were some slimy Leviathan and He was Yahweh) and then try to lay the ground rules in his court -- where he reasons as a Socratic along with some "revelation" knowledge -- who can argue with that?
Ed-as-the-slimy-beast and yours truly as God. Really objective analysis . . . as stated previously, my argument does not depend at all on a presumption of the truthfulness of divine inspiration of the Bible, but rather, upon logic, sensible interpretation, historical Jewish hermeneutic and religious worldview, and internal consistency.
Revelation solves everything. Not that everybody agrees on what particular revelations say or mean or how each of them are to be applied.*smile*
Is there an actual rational argument in this that I have missed? I'll keep looking; maybe I'll locate one. Not content with ridiculing Christians, Ed at length takes on the Christian conception of God, in what I'm sure he thinks is a hilarious, knee-slapping piece of ridicule (and according to him, I take passages like this as evidence that Ed believes in God himself LOL):
Those Bible verses about God "smelling the soothing aroma" do make ya wonder though, whether God still lusts after the scent of burnt animals. Today, if He did, He'd probably have to settle for a barstool at a steak house with Zeus, Odin, Marduk and Baal by His side, chatting about the good old days, all sneaking a whiff of that old "soothing" stuff.
Course, maybe God's addiction just kept getting worse, from flaming farm animals, to His son, and now He's probably addicted to "smelling the soothing aroma" of whole planets filled with living creatures exploding into cosmic fireballs. Wait, isn't that mentioned in the book of Revelation? Quick! Call the Pope to arrange an intervention, we gotta get God into rehab! And tell Outback to double my order.
No bias at all here, of course. Ed and his cronies are utterly objective, sensible, and reasonable, while Christians are always (or almost always, at the very least) subjective, senseless, and irrational. That about covers Ed's "Armstrong Page" for now.