As a person who studies theology and philosophy I have, over the years, read some brilliant skeptics; John Mackie and Paul Draper come to mind. I also have become reasonably informed about the debate over theism in the literature. Consquently, I have a good idea when the issues are being caricatured.
Unfortunately rebuttal of a theological position by caricature is all too common in New Zealand. A good example is the blog no god zone this claims to be a site devoted to critiquing theism. However, after briefly examining the site, there appeared to be no discussion of the arguments of Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig, Alston, Van Inwagen or any other representative proponents of theism. Instead what exists is mostly caricature and what’s worse the caricatures are usually responded to not by robust counter argument but by vitriolic abuse.
A good example of this is an attack on my wife, and fellow MnM blogger, Madeleine. Here is what the blogger godlesszone writes:
A Madeleine Flannagan repeats the same rot saying “Hell Pizza will never again see a cent of my family’s money for their utter disregard of parental rights.” Again the Christianists seem to think that there is a right which controls the actions of others to prevent anything they find offensive. I’m sure people find this woman offensive so would her waddling down the street violate the “parental rights” of others? Of course not. Once again this moron has no idea as to what it means to have a right.
Note godlesszone’s argument here; he quotes a portion of what Madeleine said on a forum and then asserts, on the basis of this quote, that Madeleine believes there is a parental right to not be offended. He then offers an insulting counter example to the existence of this right, calls her a moron and then concludes that Madeleine, therefore, does not know what a right is.
Now even if Madeleine believed that there was a right to not be offended, this would not show she does not know what rights are, merely that she mistakenly believes in one that does not exist.
Moreover, even if Madeleine did not know what a right is that would not make her a moron. There is vigorous debate about the nature of rights and what exactly they are, if they exist, in contemporary philosophical literature. Many intelligent people disagree on this issue. Hence we have two clear non-sequiturs in this argument.
It is worth noting that this non-sequitur attacks a straw man, because nowhere did Madeleine claim that there is a right to not be offended. If one turns to the quote (to which godlesszone actually links). You will see what Madeleine actually said is in its entirety:
No one has the right to tell me how to educate my kids. Not the state, family planning and not the local pizza company. I am not catholic, I am speaking as a parent. Hell Pizza will never again see a cent of my family’s money for their utter disregard of parental rights. We used to buy their pizza, we never will again. I encourage every person who believes in parental rights to boycott Hell Pizza. We have a big enough Nanny State in New Zealand without them adding to it. My kids reckon Pizza Hut tastes better than Hell Pizza anyway.
Nowhere in this citation does Madeleine claim that there is a right to not be offended. What Madeleine claims is that there is a parental right to educate ones children. Hell Pizza had attempted to educate people’s children’s about sex and contraception without parental consent. That was the basis of her complaint, a simple reading of what she actually wrote makes this clear. Now of course Madeleine was not claiming here that the state can never step in. In cases where there is clear evidence of abuse the state has a right and a duty to step in but nothing like that was involved in this situation being discussed.
Two things are worth noting here, first godlesszone is a Libertarian and hence actually believes in a parental right to educate ones children, in fact he probably holds to a stronger conception of parental right to educate one’s children than Madeleine does. Hence nothing she actually said about the existence of such a right would be objectionable to him.
Second, by linking to this quote and citing it godlesszone shows he had in fact read this quote and hence knew what Madeleine actually said. And by snipping out the first few sentences, and asserting she was referring a parental right to not be offended, godlesszone deliberately attributes to Madeleine a thesis that he knows she did not assert.
So here the blogger at no god zone sees a person appeal to a principle he actually agrees with. However, because he dislikes the persons religion he lies about what they said, makes up something else and then ridicules them for making this made up claim, and finally make fallacious jumps to accuse them of ignorance of basic concepts in ethics.
I suspect that no god zone is not actually interested in rational critique. All we have is hatred of Christians, a hatred that burns to such an extent that simple basic prima facie moral obligations such as don’t lie about other people and don’t insult other people are considered not to apply when dealing with them.
There is an irony here the author of no god zone was until fairly recently a writer for a respected internet news outlet which claims to stand for tolerance. He also is a contributor to a liberal institute which proposes tolerance as one of its core values. Unfortunately this sort of thing is becoming far too common. We see the banner of tolerance and reason used as a vehicle by which to promote irrational intolerance of Christianity. Orwell parodied a world which stated “War is Peace” today, perhaps, the parody should be “irrational bigotry is tolerance”.