Sunday, August 16, 2015

On the Fundamental Divide

Victor Reppert wonders what Richard Dawkins would have done had he attended Oxford at the time when CS Lewis was president of the Oxford Socratic Club.
What is likely going to be the result of the polarization of the question of religion is that even with the enhanced communication provided by the Internet, we are still moving toward a culture in which we communicate seriously only with like-minded people. When C. S. Lewis became the first President of the Oxford Socratic Club he talked about the value of such a debating society for the community of Oxford University. I have often wondered what a certain well-known Oxford atheist would have done had the Oxford Socratic Club were still in existence, and he were to receive an invitation to present a paper and engage in dialogue with the resident Christians (such as C. S. Lewis).

Since I'm a theist and a Christian, I like to see people become theists and Christians. But I also like to make sure there is an open community of discussion concerning these issues, something I value independently of it as an instrument for getting people to agree with me. - Reppert
Here's one possible answer: Dawkins would have happily engaged in civilized dialog and debate with those Christians.

Where would I ever get such a crazy idea?  Could it be the fact that Dawkins has a history of doing just that?  Dawkins has participated in Oxford-sponsored debates, in the long tradition of civil rational discourse that started there well before CS Lewis.  And when he debates, he does not come off as hostile or snarky, or unwilling to engage on the issues at hand.  His manner of debating, as you can see, is a far cry from what people like Victor would have you believe.

Dawkins has debated with Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury), and fellow Oxford Professor John Lennox.  In this debate with Deepak Chopra, he did a remarkable job of remaining level-headed while facing a religious opponent who flitted from topic to topic in lieu of addressing the issues with rational, reasoned responses.  This must have been extremely frustrating for Dawkins.  I wonder how Victor would fare against such antics in a debate.

So what kind of debate or discussion does Victor engage in?  I tried to find references to debates in which Victor has participated.  I couldn't find any.  He keeps talking in glowing terms about Lewis' Socratic club, so it would stand to reason that he would actually participate in these events from time to time, but I see no evidence of that.  Instead, we have his blog, where he continues to pine about Socratic debating, and whine about how nasty Richard Dawkins is.  Does Victor ever actually encourage the kind of discussion that he says is of such value to the community?  Not from what I can see.

From the time I first visited his blog, I wanted nothing more than to discuss and debate matters of philosophy and religion with people who hold different beliefs and opinions from my own.  I don't speak in the manner of a philosopher, but at least I tried to be polite and civil.  And from the beginning, there were certain individuals who never wanted to discuss anything with me, but mounted a barrage of ad hominem attacks against me.  Eventually, Victor decided that I was not bringing out the best in his cultists, and he asked me not to come back any more.  Meanwhile those  same individuals continue to spout their venom without ever hearing a word of admonishment.  I encourage readers to look at the comments in that post.  What you will see is a couple of people who are at war with anyone who dares to speak with any level of conviction on behalf of ideas or beliefs that they don't like.

If Victor really wanted to see some civilized discussion, he might consider asking those individuals to tone down their open hostility.  He might consider moderating the discussions to keep them on track and to curtail any instances of debates turning into personal attacks.  And he might consider one thing I have asked him to do many times: to give your ideological opponents (especially Dawkins) a fair hearing and respond to the arguments they actually make rather than some straw man that you have invented or remarks taken out of context to make them sound bad.  That simply isn't in the tradition of Socratic debate that Victor so admires.


  1. Socratic debate? Civil discussion? On theism? With crude? Hardly. I think the lesson to take away here with Victor is, do not stand between a Christian and his belief in supernatural superstition. No matter how it might be dressed Victor is incapable of understanding let alone appreciating that supernatural superstition is still superstition. That is what the sciences is telling us. Our capacity for imagination and creativity knows no boundaries be they real, surreal or unreal. That which best characterises our predilection for, and our limitless capacity to imagine intentionality and purpose everywhere, need look no further than to what I recall reading many years ago, a pejorative as it may be but nonetheless containing an element of certitude; 'The brain is an amazing organ. It keeps working every second, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year, from before you were born right up until you find religion.'

    1. If Victor has any interest at all in reasoned debate with anyone other than his own cultists, I think he knows what he needs to do. But I doubt that's what he really wants. Victor and his cultists are interested in philosophy of religion for one reason only - to provide justification for what they believe. They'll tolerate someone like Lowder who treats their beliefs with kid gloves and gives them a level of respect that they would never afford to most atheists. But they can't stand anyone who doesn't pretend their superstitious beliefs are on a par with serious philosophy or scientific understanding, much less people who treat them the same way they treat the rest of us.

  2. For what it's worth, I think Vic was wrong to ban you and Papa from his blog. Blogs should be places where free discussion takes place and opposing views collide. Vic should have been more patient with you guys.

  3. Keith,

    They weren't "banned". Read what Victor said. He requested they refrain from posting to his site. He never said he would ban them.

    And as for patience, I think Victor showed to both of them ample patience, having been for quite literally years on the receiving end of Skep's no-nothing denial of the legitimacy of everything outside of what he himself already believes, as well as of Papalinton's digital diarrhea of random words strung together in hopes that no one will notice he has nothing to say.

    1. It's people like crude, with his attack-the-gnus mentality, and Ilion, with his ad hominems and his "no-nothing denial of the legitimacy of everything outside of what he himself already believes", that create a toxic environment for civil discussion. I think Victor is in denial of this, and apparently, you are too.

      Here, you can argue all you want in favor of what you believe. But don't expect me to be convinced by your arguments. I certainly don't expect you to be convinced by mine. Still, we can present our cases, and have the opportunity to think about what we are saying in light of arguments from the other side. I have learned quite a lotl from discussions like this. And I hope that my opponents can learn a little something from me.

    2. And in good grace both Skep and I chose honor Victor's request. Little can be said of Plank or crude echoing even a semblance of selfsame good grace either at DI or as is illustrated in the comment above. It is not in their Christian ethical or moral nature to do so.