Loftus, Reppert, and the Courtier's Reply
Victor Reppert made a remark about the Courtier's Reply that puzzled me:
One saving grace for John is that he has criticized the overuse of the Courtier's Reply, which essentially says "Your position is so stupid that we don't even have to bother to understand it to attack it."I was puzzled because this definition of the Courtier's Reply is not what I understand it to be. The Courtier's Reply is actually what theists use to attack atheists who reject belief in God without necessarily understanding all the details of every theistic argument or every particular religion they are rejecting.
This term was coined by PZ Myers eight years ago, after reading reviews of The God Delusion. Myers parodied the Courtier's Reply this way:
Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste.I wondered if there was another meaning for the term, so I looked it up, and sure enough, both Wikipedia and RationalWiki agree with Myers' definition (after all, it is Myers' definition). So where does the confusion come from?
Richard Dawkins made a reply to one of his critics' comments about The God Delusion that fits with Victor's characterization of the Courtier's Reply:
Most of us happily disavow fairies, astrology, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster without first immersing ourselves in books of Pastafarian theology.Let's be clear about this. Dawkins' remark was not the Courtier's Reply. It was a response to the Courtier's Reply. However, John Loftus made this post three years ago, in which he confused the Courtier's Reply with the response to the Courtier's Reply. This is evidently what Reppert is referring to, and where Repperts gets his understanding of how the courtier's reply is defined.
So what is my position on all of this? I believe that Dawkins has valid and rational reasons for rejecting theism in general. As to those who reply to him that he must understand the particulars of their own brand of theism, I agree with Myers that they are using a logical fallacy. Dawkins' reasons are no less valid if he doesn't know everything about every single religion he is rejecting.
But Loftus also makes a good point (despite his confusion over the terminology). You can't debunk a particular religion, or refute a particular theistic argument, without having a good understanding of what that religion or argument is. I agree. There is an important distinction to make here: rejecting theism in general is not the same thing as refuting some particular argument or brand of theism. The latter requires specific knowledge of the particular thing that you are refuting. So it looks like we are all in agreement on this.
I made the point to Victor that he mischaracterizes what Dawkins says. He paraphrases Dawkins as: "Your position is so stupid that we don't even have to bother to understand it to attack it." But that is not what Dawkins said. He didn't characterize his critics as "stupid", and he wasn't trying to debunk any particular brand of theism. He was responding to the Courtier's Reply, about his attitude toward theism in general. This is what Victor doesn't seem to understand. Victor will not read Dawkins' words the way they were intended. Instead, he insists on casting Dawkins in the most uncharitable light possible by taking his words out of context. The real irony is that Victor is guilty of the thing he accuses Dawkins of - not being willing to listen to what your opponent is saying.