Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Intellectual Honesty

I'm currently at a Church of England theological college in Oxford. One of the things that really struck me when I moved here was the intellectual honesty of the place.

I'm used to people thinking through issues, but then trying to make their position look stronger than it is by using arguments that don't really work, and if they're really honest, they know don't really work. That's certainly true on both sides in the women bishops debate; it's certainly true on both sides in the creation / evolution debate; it's certainly true on both sides when arguing about the existence of God. To be honest, it's part of the reason I quit taking sides in the 144-hour creation / 14 Gy creation debate (unless anyone is arguing their case more strongly than is tenable, in which case I sometimes try to argue them more into the centre).

That doesn't seem to happen anywhere near as much here though, especially among the staff. It's a real challenge for me as well - although I really don't like it when others do it, I know I still occasionally use arguments I know aren't solid. So I'm trying to stop doing that.

Here's a challenge for readers of this blog. You try doing the same. Try being honest with yourselves and with other people about when your position is solid and when it's not, about when arguments work and when they don't really work but you like the conclusion anyway.

One of the people who posts comments on this blog gave me a really funny example of this with a modified version of the old (and hideously flawed) so-called Argument from Evil, which he described as an "irrefutable disproof of God". I'll assume he was being humourous and self-deprecating by deliberately hugely overstating his case with a very poor argument. But if he'd been doing that seriously (which I'll assume he wasn't), and if I was observing, I'd think that he was desperate for arguments for his position if that was the best he could come up with.


Anonymous said...

That (linked) is a weak argument. Speaking as an atheist, I have to say that the real argument from evil is that there is so much evil in this actually observable world around us.

We don't have to make numbered arguments to see that evil exists in this world and that no supernatural being is doing anything to alleviate it. Just to take one very obvious example, millions of children under the age of 5 die of starvation-related causes every year. I think it is intellectually dishonest to rationalize this as god having a possible motivation for allowing this to happen.

Because what you are saying is that you think your omnipotent omniscient deity can BEST or ONLY accomplish some earthly aim by allowing millions of children to be born and then perish in misery at an early age.

Anonymous said...

Hi Custard.

For me the most pertinant point is number 2: 'God is supposedly omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent'

I believe, most theists would argue that God is indeed omniscient and omnipotent. However: omnibenevolent? The exact meaning of this word needs to be stated to fully discuss the contributors argument. If it means 'perfectly good' as I assume, then we can lead ourselves into circles as to what is 'good' and no progress can be made.

Still enjoying the blog!


John said...

Yes, AC, I agree that point 2) usually represents a major flaw in arguments from evil.