Friday, July 14, 2006

Answer a fool according to his folly

A couple of Christian commenters have asked about our apologetic methodology at Triablogue.

As a general matter, Triablogue is a team effort. Different team members vary in their style, temperament, individual background, formative influences, epistemology, and so on.

The same is true for readers. Different readers will react differently to the very same material.

Moving to the specifics:

Darrin said:

“Shouldn't this battle be fought on epistemological grounds? I.e. should you not force their hands to show why their positions amount to something that is ‘true’ rather than something that is just their opinion? In other words, make them account for how they know the things they assert? Their use of induction (which is formally fallacious) to establish their ‘truth’ claims should be challenged. (Perhaps you have as I can't say I've read every thread).”

I think there’s often a time and place to get explicitly presuppositional. But I don’t do that all the time.

For one thing, if you play the presuppositional card every time, it looks like a dodge. It looks like you don’t have any specific answers to specific objections, so that all you can do is to play your dog-eared trump card every single time.

But since we often have specific answers to specific objections at our disposal, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t give specific answers to specific objections—instead of deflecting every objection and redirecting it to the preconditions of intelligibility.

This doesn’t mean that I object to specialization. Due to the specialization of knowledge, it’s not uncommon for an apologist to limit himself to a particular field of expertise.

If a Christian wants to make transcendental theism his bailiwick, that’s fine. We need to have that in reserve. And there are occasions when that’s the weapon of choice.

I just don’t think that every Christian apologist would limit himself to TAG as the only weapon in his armory. Our collective apologetic ought to be broader than that.

Shining and Burning Light said:

“And I have no problem utilizing all lines of Biblical argumentation, we can proclaim and defend the truth with passion and tenacity, bringing thunder when necessary, being sarcastic when the refutation of their arguments call for it, etc. But we should not treat them in kind, or fling retorts back and forth, and let the discussion degenerate into childishness. If unbelievers note our disposition and demeanor toward them when we respond, and they feel as though we're treating them like mud, it is unlikely that we're going to make any headway with them, even if our argumentation has won the day. We ought not represent Christ to them in this way, brother. The best argument we can make for Christianity is to be as Christ-like as possible. In my view, none of their self-deceiving arguments can even touch that. When we see an example of harsh judgment pronounced in the Bible toward someone (e.g. Hymenaeus and Philetus), there is a context for it. Sarcasm and harshness, though they have their place, ought not be the defining characteristic of our dealings with apostates/atheists. They should have some sense that we are concerned for their well-being, even though we are on opposite sides of the argument. I highly respect what you and the Tbloggers do, I admire your intellectual abilities (they are a great gift from God), and I esteem you as brethren. I don't have any legalistic list of do's and don'ts when refuting those who oppose the faith, but I am suggesting that you tone it down. Unbelievers are listening to you at DC, and at times (notice I said at times, not all the time) they pick up this disposition I've been talking about and they call you on it. When the Debunkees come off as the gracious ones, something is wrong! Please consider what I say, even though I am a nobody....thanks for your labors in the Lord.”

From one nobody to another, there’s a lot of truth in SBL’s observation.

I myself follow the philosophy of Prov 26:4-5. Sometimes it’s prudent to answer a fool according to his folly, but at other times a different tack is called for. As one commentator puts it:

“That situation poses a problem to the wise: how should one ‘answer’ the fool? The opposite bits of advice—‘do not answer’ and “do answer’—show that there is no automatic formula to be applied. Each situation calls for a response that the wise must have confidence to discern on the spot. In one case, to answer would lead to prolonged argument in which the wise might be trapped into babbling like a fool. Where there is a chance of that, silence is the prudent way…In another case, one prick of the fool’s balloon may bring him back to reality and burst the bubble of his conceit (‘wise in his own eyes’). To answer in that circumstance does a favor to everyone, including the fool…both proverbs are valid, each in its own setting,” D. Hubbard, Mastering the Old Testament: Proverbs (Word 1989), 398-99.

I don’t think we should follow an unbeliever wherever he would take us. We march to the drumbeat of our own inspired music score. Yet the Bible is, itself, a book with many instruments in the orchestra pit: brass as well as strings.

And it also differentiates between one group and another. It reserves some very harsh words for the apostate.

I don’t believe that we should hand out respect like free samples of detergent. Respectable arguments merit a respectful hearing.

Disreputable objections do not. There’s no reason to treat everything the same way when everything is not the same.

It’s ironic how angry an unbeliever will become when you hold him to his own words and standards. But I think there’s a place for that—precisely because it exposes the vulnerability of the unbeliever’s position.

There are times when we should ruthlessly take an unbeliever at his own word, hold him to his word, make him eat his own words.

Call his bluff. Play by his own rules and beat him at his own game.

Why should he feel offended when we respond to him in kind, when we answer him in his own coin?

If he chooses to take umbrage, then that’s helpful—for he is taking offense at his own words and standards as soon as we stamp a return address on the envelop and mail it back to the sender.

The church is composed of a variety of people. The church is better off when it has more people like SBL and fewer people like me. But there’s a place for salt as well as light.

Of course, I myself am eminently expendable. There are any number of Christians out there who could do what I do and do it much better. Christians who know more than I do on any given topic.

But until the A-team comes on board, B-team rookies like me will fill in as pinch-hitters.


  1. Shining: I am suggesting that you tone it down. Unbelievers are listening to you at DC, and at times (notice I said at times, not all the time) they pick up this disposition I've been talking about and they call you on it. When the Debunkees come off as the gracious ones, something is wrong!

    Yes there is. I desire a dispassionate conversation over that of a heated debate involving personal attacks any day, all day long. The Bible seems to justify anything Christians wants to do. They can treat us as non-persons and call us fools, ignorant, stupid and evildoers, for instance, since they can find that language in the Bible. But in our minds, and in the minds of many readers, it reveals the hatred Christians have for people who disagree with them. I am a normally gracious person (when left unprovoked). How does my self-restraint (without the aid of the Holy Spirit) compare to your own here? [Oh, that's right you have biblical justification for not restraining yourself, don't you? Convenient, eh?]

    Think of it this way. You can indeed treat us as you think the Bible says you can. But there are readers on both Blogs that see the difference and don't understand why you treat us this way, even after explicating your so-called Biblical reasons. For many Christians, as well as many fence-riders, if they see the ugliness in the way you treat us it will send them away from you and/or your faith.

    Besides, let your arguments do the talking. What does it add to your argument to add the word, "stupid" to it? Nothing at all. Why not just say "this argument is wrong for the following reasons," rather than saying "this stupid argument is silly and ignorant for the following reasons?" It's the reasons that matter, not the labelling, right?

    Your choice.

    Now back to our regularly scheduled debates where you continue to dig your own graves, with your attitudes (Galatians 5: 22-23). But here's hoping (along with many readers) that things are getting milder and better.

  2. Oh, and one more thing. If I can get you to change your thinking about how you deal with us, then I've got some more things you need to change your minds about. ;-)

    Have a good day!

  3. Loftus wrote:
    I desire a dispassionate conversation over that of a heated debate involving personal attacks any day, all day long.

    This would be much more convicing if you ceased your personal attacks and actually engaged in a disapassionate conversation sometime.

    Loftus wrote:
    What does it add to your argument to add the word, "stupid" to it? Nothing at all.

    Other Loftus quotes, regarding me:

    This is why I banned you, because you’re stupid and the only reason I come here is to correct your stupidity because you linked this page to one of ours.


    Calvindude. This comment of yours spells out exactly why you were banned. You're stupid.


    This is why you're banned. It's way too frustrating talking to an ignorant person like you who cannot even understand basic level arguments (of any kind, not just metaphysical).


    There are more quotes, but this is sufficient to demonstrate the point.

    Apparently, per Loftus, it doesn't add anything to an argument to say that argument is stupid, but you can call me stupid all day long and that's okay.

  4. By the way, Loftus, my debate challenge to you still stands. If you want a "dispassionate conversation" how about we have one with rules in place to enforce a dispassionate conversation?

  5. The problem with your point, my dear Loftus is your second post. It rather undermines the first, does it not?

    Still, after my pathetic attempts to get out of a knock-down drag-out fight with Mr. Beligerent Atheist of South London, I can confirm that there are atheists out there with the level of grace of the drunk who lurches into a bar wanting a fight (not that sort of bar).

  6. I just don’t think that every Christian apologist would limit himself to TAG as the only weapon in his armory. Our collective apologetic ought to be broader than that.

    For the record, I'm not advocating TAG as I don't think is rises to the level of a presuppositional argument, nor does what is commonly thought of as Van Tilianism (even John Frame would agree. See my comment at ReformationTheology - ).

    Also, I agree that there is a place for empirical arguments, and you guys use them well in "debunking the debunkers". I just do not believe they can provide a framework in making the case FOR Christianity. They certainly may point to some unknown deity, but without the revelation of Scripture they fall short as a distinctively Christian apologetic.

    You guys do a great job and I did not want to leave the impression that I was criticizing what you do.

  7. If you care that link is:

    It got cut off for some reason.

  8. Calvindude, but you are stupid.

  9. John Loftus,

    I was exhorting the brethren here to treat you and the other gentlemen at DC with an appropriate Christian decorum. I think you need to re-read my entire comment located in Steve's archive under "Vengeance is Mine", I think it was posted around July 9 (I'm not techie enough to put a link here). I was defending you guys, actually, and as Christians we should be more gracious than our opponents. What has offended you here? You read every comment of my interaction with one of your regular posters, Paul, where do you see that I treated him wrongly? I think Paul would defend me here. Please quote me from any conversation I've had here or at your blog where I've not lived to the best of my ability in grace in a respectful manner. If you are offended because I recognize the weakness of your argumentation, or disagree with your conclusions, I can do nothing about that. If you are offended that I refer to your group at times as the Debunkees, that is just a little play on your web site name and is meant in jest. I think that is clear. The Bible doesn't justify a Christian acting any way he or she wants, but it does recognize that there are different weapons to be used in different situations and with different opponents. Does any form of sarcasm offend you? If that's the case John, you shouldn't be in a venue where disagreement and argumentation are part and parcel of the modus operandi. We believe what we believe passionately, that may come out in our argumentation at times, but we do need to treat each other as mature adults, and if you re-read my original comments, I don't think your complaint here is valid. I think I have shown my genuine concern for your eternal well-being, and that has been reflected in my disposition and demeanor toward you and the other Debunkers. I challenge you to show otherwise within the context of what I actually said. Thank you for your consideration....

  10. Also, I don't recall referring to any of your arguments as "stupid". Please correct me if I'm wrong with an actual quote, and if I said it with a wrong attitude toward you I will apologize on this blog, or wherever you like...

  11. Thus Spakest the Loftus:
    Calvindude, but you are stupid.

    Then you should have no problem demonstrating that in a written scholarly debate. I'll even let you pick the thesis. You want the problem of evil? Fine. You want
    the Euthyphro dilemma? Fine. It really doesn't matter to me. Pick your thesis. Any subject relating to the theism/atheism debate.

    We can conduct it simply enough. Let's alternate between the one who affirms and the one who denies. We can do a cross-examination period of a set number of questions. Then we can have rebutals and a conclusion. Pretty standard stuff. Perhaps a framework could be:

    Opening Statments (5,000 words)

    First Rebuttals (3,000 words)

    Second Rebuttals (3,000 words)

    Cross-Examination (10 questions each)

    Cross-Examination Rebuttals (3,000 words)

    Closing Statements (5,000 words).

    The word length and number of questions are obviously changeable depending on what you want to do. But the above format will show sufficiently which one of us has a clue about his position.

    So pick a thesis, Loftus, and actually prepare to defend your beliefs instead of just changing the subject and banning dissenters.

  12. Calvindude, as I said before, get in line. Besides I don't make it a point to debate stupid people like you. And I never said I wasn't offensive at times. You provoke me every time you write, that's all, and you'll never get the point, and you'll never have anything much else to argue for but one argument.

    Shining, I never said you were offensive. You are not. I was actually saying you are right. Now I am saying that this does not describe you. You are a Shining and Bright Light! And I thank you for that.

  13. Loftus,

    Yeah, I see the great courage you display when you don't control the forum and can't censor those who disagree with you. Everyone else sees it too. Well, everyone but you.

  14. John Loftus (I use your last name everytime so you know which John I'm talking to),

    Thanks for the clarification, I misunderstood the thrust of your previous comments. I do apologize. I'm only a shining and burning light when I reflect my Lord and Savior....


  15. Steve,

    Thanks for the way you received my comments, I appreciate it. May God bless you, brother...

  16. Can't we all just get along...

    Oh, wait, if we believe in a "god-ordained" antithesis, then I guess not.

    I'm up here in Buffalo NY at the CFI Student Leadership Conference on secular humanism. It's kind of funny in how I felt in reading over this thread, and the comments, and having gone to meetings today where we discussed the need to be polite and respectful and even try to connect with those who disagree with us (esp Campus Crusade), to get the issues out before people.

    We want more people to hear dissenting and alternative explanations to the worldview of traditional Western theism. Calling them names, and belittling their intellect, is not the best way to get them to seriously dialogue. It's just funny that as a bunch of "godless heathens" up here in Buffalo, we aren't talking about "answering the fools according to their folly" with respect to theists.

    I actually don't want to "make" you atheists, or necessarily even convince you that your worldview's presuppositions, esp of taking the dusty old parchments as a sacred oracle, are in error. What I want is to keep the voice of dissent loud, clear, and coherent. You can have your faith, I can't take it from you if I wanted to.

    I value science, reason, and humanistically-based ethics.

    Your values include faith, divine commands, etc., (not to say you don't value what I do as well). So long as you put faith and what you believe God has told you to do before the practical and scientific realities that we all face together, as humans, it doesn't appear that we will ever make headway with one another. Your values and our values are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but prioritized in an inverse fashion to one another's. And perhaps we both realize this.

    And perhaps that's why we both get frustrated at times.

    So long as you value the possibility that a man raised from the dead 2000 years ago, and that your book is accurate historically, and that your doctrine of ensoulment is correct, more than you value the possibility that using a glob of amino acids and sugars, which could become a [Christian] person one day, will lead to the alleviation of clear and present pain, suffering, and evils...

    We will never move in the same direction. My values point me towards what I can know and experience and those I care about. Your values are quite different. I don't value faith. I value science, evidence, and reason. I tentatively hold to "big" concepts, and prefer to live in the practical and real world according to the best of my abilities, intellectually and ethically.

    So far, as an atheist, I am far better as a person, as a whole, than I ever was as a Christian.

    I wouldn't say that this is ALWAYS the case, or even that Christianity doesn't help some people to be better, ie drug addicts. Religions may indeed stabilize societies within certain contexts, and give people hope and optimism and comfort. What they also do is lead people to what is happening in Lebanon and Israel right now... faith. People who won't sit down and dialogue, as we try to do, but instead choose to kill one another for their opposing values.

    And that is a tragedy. A travesty.

    And you believe that your God leaves all of us down here like this, aloof and cold, to care more about It and what It thinks than to prevent things like this. To spend our time arguing over what It supposedly wants us to know from dusty old parchments of completely ambiguous origins which have undergone unknown revisions to give us the extant oldest copies we have. To spend eternity in hell or heaven. What in the hell was life for? Why not just be expedient and cut to the chase and assign us all there now? What is Jesus waiting for?

    Values. Priorities. Perhaps we'll always frustrate one another.

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