Yesterday’s little rant about what I flippantly called the vagina clown car movement drew the ire of one of my readers, Russ. Rather than simply respond to his post in the thread, I’ve decided to use it as the subject of today’s post. I thought it might do my nonreligious audience some good to see the process by which we can dismantle bad arguments and expose them for what they are.
In order to get fully on board, you should probably read my post from yesterday. The first thing we need to do is establish what I’m saying — the point of my rant. (If we were talking about a formal argument, we could call it a contention.) Since my post was not framed as a formal argument, it’s a little difficult to pick out my main points, but here are some context clues. Look for statements of fact and ignore gratuitous information. Neither my headache nor the “stupidity that won’t stop” are significant, so you can basically ignore them. Within a few sentences, you can also see that I’m not saying anything particularly important about the book by the ALL CAPS WOMAN.
The first statement of fact that looks relevant is where I say that there’s a growing movement of women who think sperm is magic. I go on to mention a specific family that has eschewed birth control and decided to have as many children as “God gives them.” The next paragraph asserts that this belief is stupid and environmentally irresponsible.” I also imply that this practice will result in more ignorant, scientifically illiterate fear mongerers. That’s pretty much it. So, in a nutshell, here’s yesterday’s post, distilled into relevant information:
- There is a growing movement of women who refuse birth control and have lots of children as a result.
- This practice/belief is stupid and environmentally irresposnible.
- This practice will lead to more ignorant and scientifically illiterate fear mongerers.
I apologize if that’s a little tedious. The actual mental process takes only a few seconds, but writing it out is not so ergonomic.
Anyway, let’s look at the conversation with Russ:
Let me get this straight. A married couple decides to have a big family teach their children things like, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and this causes you to become so angry that you can’t speak. Are you sure that they are the ones with the problem?
Can anybody spot the first problem? It’s a seductively good deflection, but it’s a deflection. Which of my points is Russ addressing? He’s conceded (but not defended) the decision to have a big family, and implied that I object to parents teaching their children to love their neighbors. He’s then implied that I have anger issues.
Now, go back to my post and re-read it if you need to. You’re looking for any reference whatsoever to teaching children about loving their neighbors. I’ll save you the time. It’s not there. In only one paragraph did I imply anything about education, and I mentioned two things specifically: ignorance and scientific illiteracy. Under which category does “love your neighbor” fall? In my book, that’s ethics. It certainly doesn’t take science education to know that it’s a good idea to be nice to your neighbor.
So that whole (emotionally appealing, to be sure) sentence is irrelevant. It has absolutely nothing to do with my argument. This is a very common technique used by theists when defending themselves against rational arguments. They simply change the subject from the get-go. They also follow Russ’s pattern here by trying to bait their opponent into defending himself. Notice that he has implied that I have a problem, and that my anger is misplaced? Harsh words, but they don’t actually say anything of value. What problem is Russ suggesting that I have? He hasn’t said. He’s just used the emotional appeal of accusing me of a problem to (again) deflect from my original points, which he still hasn’t even touched.
Let’s see how I handled that:
Yes. You have it exactly straight. Have you read any of the other posts on this blog? How about the one where I write that religious indoctrination is the equivalent of child abuse? Have you checked out Endhereditaryreligion.com? It’s in my links. Yes, Russ. I am of the belief that the combination of environmental irresponsibility, the teaching of Bronze Age superstitious, misogynistic, authoritarian dogma, and the blatant biogtry displayed by the couple at that website is worthy of great anger. They are teaching their children to be ignorant bigots. I find that horribly offensive.
Rather than engage in a constructive debate, I’ve responded with anger. This was my first mistake. My anger at his post shows through, but look at what’s happened. Russ never accused me of anything specific. He never addressed my argument at all. He just used emotional appeals to try to win the day. In truth, that’s why I was angry. I’ve seen this kind of deflection for years, consistently, and it’s aggravating to see someone so flippantly ignore everything I’ve just said. Nevertheless, I played his game instead of mine.
Even so, I did not succumb to his ploy with regard to “love thy neighbor.” Instead, I reiterated my initial point while adding another bit of information. I asserted that Christian teachings are bigoted. So, we can add that to our list of things Russ could address.
Now, Russ’s reply:
This is the fruit of your religion – hate. Hate toward a loving family that you do not even know.
The fact is that home schooled children outperform government schooling hands down in every area of study. Yet you see a couple raising their children according to their time tested beliefs in a free country as offensive unless they teach exactly what you believe. It is the atheists who are intolerant, judgmental and predigest – not people of faith.
In the United States there is (for now) the freedom of religion and generally that means Christianity for that is our heritage. If teaching Christianity makes people ignorant salves, why is the most Christian nation also the most successful, influential, powerful, free and wealthiest nation on the face of the earth? Why haven’t the atheist nations bypassed us if hatred is the answer as you propose?
Russ is pulling out the big guns. Apparently, I hate the family in this blog. Very emotionally damaging to me, right? I’m a hater. Or… am I? Have I said that I hate them? Have I implied that I hate them? No. I have not. I have said that their belief is stupid and that they’re raising ignorant, scientifically illiterate children. Is that hate? No. It’s not. Just ask any good Christian family if “tough love” is sometimes appropriate. Shouldn’t good Christians “tell it like it is”? Yes, they should, according to their own documents. Unfortunately, to be consistent, the same rules have to apply to me. I can be tough and direct, and it can be an act of love — of caring for these people and their children, and wanting them to grow up healthy and intelligent.
Let’s also note that Russ has slipped in the claim that atheism is a religion. Curious, is it not, that somehow, this is being used as a perjorative? Why, I wonder, does he feel the need to label atheism a religion? Does it change any of the facts of any of the arguments? Or… perhaps it plays upon the notion of blind religious zealotry. Perhaps he wants readers to associate my behavior with unthinking herd mentality.
The deflections and naked assertions continue. Which homeschooled children outperform which government schools in all subjects? Russ doesn’t say. He just asserts. I, for one, am pretty certain that children home schooled by Young Earth Creationists do not outperform children in either ancient history, geography, earth science, or biology, for they must be taught untruths about all of these disciplines for their religious beliefs to make any sense.
Apparently, according to Russ, I have also stated that unless parents teach exactly what I believe, I find them offensive. Very emotionally damaging — but not contained anywhere in my post or subsequent argument. Again, I have asserted that a particular type of education — religious and nonscientific — produces scientifically illiterate bigots. Since Russ has not addressed my inherent claim that Christian homeschooling ignores science and teaches bigotry, my point is still unopposed.
Almost to the climax, Russ plays the trump card. Freedom of Religion in the Grand Old United States of America. One must wonder if Russ actually grasped my argument at all, or whether he was just responding emotionally himself. I didn’t, in any way, suggest that these people are not free to practice their religion. I asserted that they are raising scientifically ignorant bigots as a result of choosing to practice their particular version of religion. I have not called for the government to end freedom of religion. I have decried the practice of a particular religious freedom on moral grounds.
Finally, the coup de gras. If Christianity is so awful, why is America so great? This is a really great emotional appeal. Russ has implied that I’m un-American already, and now he’s driving the point home. I must be some kind of pinko commie, right? (I know, he didn’t say that explicitly, but do you think someone might be thinking it?) Perhaps I even hate America for its freedom of religion. Perhaps I’d like to impose atheism on everybody and ban the bible.
Let’s get off that emotional bandwagon for a second. “If America is so great” is an awfully loaded statement. First, we’re not really that great when it comes to education. I think at last check, we were something like 37th overall among industrialized nations. In any case, it’s certainly not very high. Regardless, this analogy is flawed to begin with. America might be great because we have more resources than anybody else, or because we import our greatest minds from other countries, or because we have more universities than any other country. It might not have anything to do with Christianity, and in fact, there’s the possibility that we are great, but would be much greater if we were not a predominately Christian population.
All that claptrap, and not a single, valid objection to even one point that I made. Not one. Russ got himself in a tizzy and probably drummed up some righteous indignation among fellow Christians who read his response, but in the end, we see that there’s absolutely no logical content to it at all. It’s just preaching.
As a final thought, I’d like the readers to know that I’m not doing this to Russ to embarrass him. I’m hoping to use his misguided emotional appeals as an example to both Christians and non-believers. We skeptics are often lured into heated emotional debates with theists, and when that happens, we often lose — not because we don’t have the correct position, but because we’re not playing to our own strength. We’re playing their game — emotion — when we should be playing ours — reason.