Sunday, June 1, 2014

3 for 3, Superficially

Geoffrey Mitelman's huffpo piece "3 Major Stumbling Blocks in the Science and Religion Debate" does identify some legitimate points. He just does it in a half-assed manner. The three stumbling blocks are definitely issues but not to the degree or reasons he seems to think.

His three are; 1. We create a false dichotomy, 2. Offense makes people play defense, and 3. Strawman arguments.

On 1, it is true that the debate between science and religion is a false dichotomy but not because individuals can reconcile them in their own minds. I've commented on this aspect before. It is a false dichotomy for two reasons. People are usually talking about different things when they argue with each other about science and/or religion. Until those arguing come to a common set of definitions there can be no discussion or debate at all. The notion of a "dichotomy" is irrelevant until those involved can actually talk about the topics at hand. The other problem is the implication that the two are somehow on equal footing. They are not. Even if theists think religion is more important than science their own behaviors and manner of argument belie such a stance. Try going about your day to day life without the benefit of science. Strip away all the technological advances we rely on and never even think about making use of any medical treatment/remedies. You can't do it! You can, however, easily go about your life without any aspect of religion. Despite what people claim, they do rely on, for example, gravity working. Do they rely on prayer?

His second point is warped in some rather telling ways. Mitelman focuses on how atheists offend theists. It never seems to occur to him that this is a blatant double standard. He also fails to account for the highly subjective nature of "offense." It should also be pointed out that whether the intention is to offend another is an important element. Not to Mitelman. His own primary example makes it clear that he is not as interested in open honest discussion as he says he is. It presents the "Reason Rally" in a rather negative way. He disregards that it was for a specific set of individuals and groups. The "quote" he uses is not attributed and is actually a phrase ("mock [you], ridicule [you], in public, with contempt.") not a complete sentence. Who said it? To whom? What is the subject? What was the context? There is nothing in it but what Mitelman himself implies about it. I agree that intentionally going out of your way to offend others is pointless and stupid. That does not mean we should be concerned that others are offend as a result of legitimate criticism, discussion, or debate.

Mitelman's last point is probably the best but once again he doesn't apply what he states to his own thinking. For instance, "On the other side, religion is much more varied and nuanced than 'follow the rules handed down by an invisible Father Figure in the sky.'" This is a strawman. He seems to think that the atheists who mock believers with the silly notion of a sky daddy actually believe that all theist think of God solely in that manner. They don't. Notice he again leaves out any attribution. I am certain that if he named an individual or group I could find ample evidence that they have criticized religion in a variety of ways that go beyond that one quip. 

Despite bringing up some legitimate points the piece fails miserably. I got the distinct impression that it was written more to justify his own self-righteousness than for any other purpose.

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