Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm on the edge of gaining tremendous respect for Christian apologist Tom Gilson

This is the latest addition to the ongoing series tagged with "Faith Discussion," in which Christian apologists Tom Gilson and Phil Vischer have been having a--shall I say spirited--ongoing dialogue with me about the concept of faith. At this point, I'm on the edge of gaining a tremendous amount of respect for Tom Gilson. Here's why.

Gilson's most recent response to me shows me how close he is to earning my respect. Gilson writes,
Note to James: if you’re right, you’re right. If not, then you’re not right. If we have no evidence-based knowledge supporting our faith, then we’re wrong. If we do, then you’re wrong. None of those conditional statements is controversial. Let’s move on to something more substantive, okay? And let’s not pretend that mere pronouncements such as you made repeatedly in your blog post can settle anything.
Given the nature of our ongoing discussion--on whether or not "faith" constitutes the same kind of thing as justification warranted by evidence--I find it hard to read this statement any other way than as Tom admitting, perhaps only implicitly, that he doesn't have a way to know his religious beliefs are true (as insightful commenter Cal Metzger also pointed out).

I feel this way particularly given that I've already covered the "IF..." response. (NB: Observe that Tom's note doesn't actually say anything except a desire to retreat from this all-important point that he cannot win because religious beliefs that rely upon revelation cannot possess the epistemic high ground.) Further, in the very post he is responding to, one he argues he has studied carefully, I wrote this:
He's invited at any point he would like to clarify what that idea [God] means, but I'm quite sure he cannot do so without referencing his beliefs, making a claim to the validity of Christian scripture, or making an appeal about the objective universality of his subjective personal experience, i.e. things he's pretending to know.
Instead of clarifying what he means by "God" and proceeding to illustrate how he can know of it independently of his overriding beliefs, Christian scripture, of appeals to his subjective personal experience--a point upon which his entire argument for evidential backing for his faith depends--he calls for a change of subject with a punt to a bunch of ifs that say nothing on their own. He's implicitly acknowledging that he cannot do it.

So, I'm on the edge of gaining tremendous respect for Tom Gilson on the observation that Gilson, if he is willing to pursue this matter further, is himself upon an important edge--the edge of openly admitting that he doesn't know that his beliefs are true. If he tips over that edge and does so, which would be honest, then he will win my respect in this exchange, hands down.

To help him see how close he actually is, let me quote him again and expose a small but critical point about how he is missing a key detail in my argument. He writes, boiling down my previous post to what he calls its essential argument,
Christians think they have evidence-based knowledge that supports their faith. I say they don’t. Other people outside the Christian faith tradition agree with me. Therefore Christians are necessarily wrong to believe they have knowledge supporting their faith. (italics his)
I have only one quibble with this. I will correct the relevant sentence for him: "All people outside of the Christian faith tradition who consider the matter with any seriousness agree with me [that Christians do not possess sufficient evidence-based knowledge to justify their beliefs]."

It seems relatively minor to bring that up, but it isn't just that other people agree with me. It's that people in every other religious tradition, and those who have none, all agree that Christianity isn't supported by the evidence. In other words, if Christian beliefs are viewed by those outside of the tradition, unless overcome with emotional circumstances that override their ability to consider them rationally, then they are seen not as things known but as things pretended to be known.

Of course, Tom Gilson and Phil Vischer, et al., totally get this argument. How do I know this? Because the wide majority of Christians do it with regard to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, Mormonism, and any other not-Christian faith-based position. Hell, they even do it with atheism which isn't even a faith tradition in any way!

I am willing to bet that Tom Gilson has never given a second thought to the idea that having heard of the Qur'an and claims that it is the revealed Word of God (made Flesh, even!), that he his condemned to spend eternity burning in torment in hell according to the Islamic religion. (This, of course, is a point made by Sam Harris.) The way he dismisses this claim of Islam is the way everyone outside of Christianity, not just "others," dismisses the similar Christian claim. He dismisses it because he is quite sure, living outside of the Islamic faith tradition, that Muslims are merely pretending to know this, despite their conviction.

The Muslims claim--even more firmly and belligerently than the Christians--that evidence backs their faith, that their beliefs are justifiable knowledge, and that Tom Gilson is going to burn in hell forever for ignoring the truth of the Qur'an and refusing to submit to the Will of Allah in the way therein prescribed. And Tom Gilson doesn't care a whit because he's not a Muslim, the only people on the planet preoccupied with that particular belief. He quite rightly knows they're pretending to know it.

Tom, look at that. Think about it for a minute. Consider the Islamic claim that you're going to hell for your beliefs. Think about how that makes you feel. How do you know they're wrong? Are they pretending to know something they do not know? It certainly seems that same place is that's right where you are now--you're right on that edge--about Christianity too.

Another call, then, Tom Gilson: repudiate all unreliable epistemologies, Christianity among those. Earn my respect--and Pete Boghossian's too.


Update, a little later the same day: Tom Gilson responds, initially unwilling to take this opportunity. I hope he comes around.

20 comments:

  1. Is that it Tom? You're still yet to demonstrate how we know that beliefs obtained through your faith accurately represent the real world. To do this you would have to explain how the faiths of opposing religions don't lead to truth and why only your particular faith is magically immune to those explanations. Seeing this from the outside, we atheists can see that people of different faiths use special pleading to justify their own faith while denying the faith of others. There's simply no way around this conundrum unless you can demonstrate, with evidence and reason, that your faith is true, at which point you can dispense with faith and rightfully call it justified knowledge.

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  2. Wow. Looks like Tommy G. just really has nothing.

    Amazing, really, for a guy who says he's written a whole book addressing Boghossian's challenge.

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  3. No, it's not that I have nothing. It's that there's nothing here worth responding to. It's a game I'm trying to pull out of because I'm having too much trouble taking it seriously. See also http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/2014/01/tom-gilson-exposes-faith-is-separate.html?showComment=1389481289188#c1334508715194597215 and http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/01/thats-call-strong-argument/#comment-79752.

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  4. As a Christian apologist, I would think that there's little you take more seriously than defending the respectability of pretending to believe what you do not know. So I'm going to continue to point out that instead of responding in any substantive way to the most basic examination of your beliefs, you choose to run away.

    And that, I think, is truly funny. ;)

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  5. James, I'm glad about your respect for Tom Gilson, because I have tremendous respect for him, I've always found him to be a highly intelligent and decent Christian apologist, and that great amount of respect I have for him is as great as my atheistic conviction that he is dead wrong about his religious beliefs.

    Tom, I hope you remember our conversations favorably. As you may recall, the only reason I stopped commenting at your blog was because of the absolute opposite of you, the commenter-who-must-not-be-named.

    For everyone else, you will get as good a conversation from a Christian apologist as you will from Tom Gilson, IMHO.

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    1. I've found him (mostly) cordial, which is respectable enough. He's got to explicitly say that his beliefs are not based upon knowledge that they are true, though, before he'll gain the tremendous respect from me. If he persists in saying that he knows that they're true, it's not going to earn my respect and will continue to erode what is there.

      He's right there at the edge, but he's not looking at it, either unaware of it or pretending it's not there. I do hope he'll prove me wrong in my skepticism that he'll do it.

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    2. I have zero respect for Tom Gilson because he is a dogmatic and authoritarian. He extends cordiality until his authority is challenged, at which point he maligns and bans. This behavior chills me. (For evidence, I give you his blog -- just read any with high comment counts.)

      I have zero respect for Tom Gilson because he is a hypocrite. He portrays himself as an intellectual ("Thinking" Christian, his dilettantish forays into specialized fields like Biology and History, his reliance on fallacies at the same time he mis-identifies faulty logic in arguments that challenge his, etc.), but he is devoted to a faulty epistemology (faith) above all. (For evidence, I give you his blog -- just read any with high comment counts.)

      I have zero respect for Tom Gilson because he demands it but will not take the steps necessary to earn that respect. I can think of few things less respectable than that.

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    3. He hasn't taken me over the edge yet. It's a shame.

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    4. Tom has a real potential tire fire on his hands with you. He can't address your challenge, but he also doesn't want to be too obvious in running away from you. It's not quite the Euthyphro, but this will be hard for him.

      Of course, he has to go with the second horn -- cutting you off from his world. If you continue to press him, especially on his blog (I see that he's already "banned" you from his Twitter feed), he'll have to resort to banning you from his blog entirely based on some arbitrary exercise of the apologist "standards" -- he'll pronounce you "unwilling to learn, not contributing to the conversation, failing to capitalize in an antagonistic manner," etc. -- and then he'll solemnly pronounce that your voice has been silenced and his herd will proclaim it good.

      Like I said, though, you have him in a true dilemma. But so long as you remain persistent in pointing things out as you have I'm going to double down and predict he goes with horn two.

      And now it's Popcorn time. Thanks.

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    5. Given that he derides Peter Boghossian for talking about "containment strategies" for the faith virus, that's particularly ironic and sad.

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  6. I'd like to point out that Tom has behaved exactly as predicted -- he has refused to provide any direct answer to the most basic questions you have posed here, has excused himself ("no time, too busy to talk!"), and has fled to the culled herd of toadies on his blog. It is, I assume, only a matter of time before James Lindsay will be banned from his blog as well.

    This is exactly the behavior predicted. It is so easy to predict because it is by far the easiest option for those who suffer from the kind of cognitive dissonance we see in folks like Tom. Which makes me think that faith-based beliefs do allow us to make at least one prediction after all. :)

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    1. Indeed, I'm back on the "your comment is awaiting moderation" list on his blog now. Go figure. I was hoping we were near a turning point, but the doxastic closure is strong with that one.

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    2. FWIW, I have no idea how you got on a moderation list there. I didn't do it. I've released your comments from moderation immediately every time I've found them there. I'm not blocking your participation, and I don't know why the software is.

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    3. Cal, has it caught your attention that James has refused to answer the basic questions I posed to him (or to Boghossian) first?

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    4. Tom, has it caught your attention that I have predicted exactly how you would behave, and that you continue to try to evade the only basic question posed to you by Boghossian's book (and then, more directly, by James)?

      How do you know your God exists?

      Every time you avoid that question, every time you try to divert the topic, every time you accuse someone else of the behavior you are demonstrating, you are making it more apparent that you have no good answer, and that your delusions makes you as easy to predict as watching a rat in a maze of its own construction.

      How do you know your God exists?

      Those of us who do not share your delusions can see that you have built a maze for yourself with only one set of options. Not until you go back to the beginning, as James has so kindly pointed, can you free yourself from repeating the same route, over and over.

      How do you know your God exists?

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  7. James, thanks for this series of very lucid posts. I wish we could somehow get it wider distribution.

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    1. Yeah... I have no idea how to do things like that. I do intend to make an index post summarizing the whole thing eventually. That probably won't do it, though.

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    2. I would suggest creating some kind of a book out of it, but I'm not sure how that would go (or if Gilson and Vischer would agree to it). A third-party editor would have to do a lot of organizing of the relevant materials into a point/counterpoint style book, a bit like but much different from John Loftus's and Randal Rauser's God or Godless.

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    3. I think there's probably some good SEO steps you can take, as well as some basic organization on this site. It's all just so textbook that I think it will be instructive for years and years to come.

      Great stuff you've done here. It would be a shame to let all these lessons be confined to the little audience of me and some several score others.

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