Thursday, December 16, 2010

Having Fun with Mitch

Consider this my Forge post for tomorrow – I wanted to do this one while I had time and had it all fresh on my mind. Or, it may cover for another day’s posting depending on how inspired I get.

This past week I uploaded four videos on tektontv responding to a fundy atheist styled “ProfMTH”. Now if this guy is a professor, I have to hope he’s teaching something like ceramics, because when it comes to knowledge and intelligence, well – let’s just say he makes Farrell Till look like Albert Einstein.

I got more wind of this today when I found him slumming my channel making comments on three of the four vids (not sure why he skipped the 4th, maybe he'll get to it later). That’s cause for me to make a few observations here we can all learn from.

First: Watch for the debate trick of taking control with questions. Till, and also ProfMTH, have this down to a science (one of the few things they know how to do well). They try to put discussion opponents in a corner and take control of the conversation by asking questions which they think will force an answer that will result in a concession.

Unfortunately for these guys, this tactic only works if you actually know what the heck you’re talking about. ProfMTH doesn’t, which means he often gets answers he has no idea what to do with. That was the case here, as I right-crossed him with all sorts of ideas he wasn’t ever exposed to, such as flattery as a component of honor/shame interactions and parallelism in oral/aural literature. You can especially see what happened when he tried to throw a bunch of concordance finds at me in the "The Professor Takes His Cut" discussion. Some of my replies he had to ignore (like on the incident with Herodias) because he knew he was boxed in with that one - but notice of course no concession of error on his part. Others he had to change the subject on (eg, where we discussed having to "please" God).

Second, watch for distractions and dodgeballs. If you look at the video, “It’s Time to Go, ProfMTH!” you will see the importance of the statement of Jesus in 16:5 being made while on the way to Gethsemane. ProfMTH erred in showing this statement made while still at the Supper.

When I pointed this out directly in comments, he made an excuse that serve as a perfect example of a dodgeball and a distraction at the same time:

There's no error. I was telling the story in a quick way. Quite frankly, the location is utterly irrelevant. It's the same group of people on the same night talking about the same thing in a relatively short amount of time.

“Telling the story in a quick way” is no excuse – I know how little effort these videos actually require, and it would have been a matter of ease for ProfMTH to have another setting for the video (and he does have more than one setting in others). Of course, if he needs to be “quick” then what does that say about how carefully he looked into these matters in the first place? (The fact that he uses stick figure bodies with human picture faces attached admittedly does indicate a certain laziness, though.)

The distraction is after that. He merely waves off location as irrelevant with an explanation that changes the subject to other factors (people there, subject in general discussed, time period). But the answer hinges on something he purposely left out: Physical location and movement. He does not deal with that; he just arbitrarily waves it off as “irrelevant”.

Third, check ‘em and check ‘em hard. A very amusing dialogue in which ProfMTH got burned fairly badly was this one on "The Biblical Scholar’s Court":

ME: Good luck trying to relate that third verse to eschatological judgment and showing you're a better authority than With, Neyrey, et'll need it.

ProfMTH: I appreciate your appeal to authority here. No doubt your audience will, too. After all, ultimately all religion--including Christianity--is nothing more than an appeal to authority. Over time the practice of religion disposes its adherents to the fallacy.

ME: Appeal to authority is valid when the authority has the knowledge and experience to back up the appeal. With and Neyrey don't. There's no reason to consider you a reliable source on any related topic, especially when you err so egregiously and have so little defining knowledge (eg, of things like the eschatological judgment) as these scholars do. That's why I included that -- to make it clear that you are not a credible authority.

ProfMTH: You might want to look up the fallacy and familiarize yourself with it. *Every* argument, regardless of who makes it, rises or falls on its merits. But as I said, religionists are disposed to the fallacy of appealing to authority because, well, that's what their religious belief and practice is based on.

ME: I have. That's why I said that. Appeals to true authorities are not a fallacy. The Nizkor Project site says for example: "This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject." Skeptics' Dictionary: "The appeal to authority is a fallacy of irrelevance when the authority being cited is not really an authority." Looks like YOU need to look it up. :)

Note of course the side rants that are meant to butter up his Skeptical audience with all the usual slogans that are never supported in depth (what I call the "elephant hurl"). After that, ProfMTH retreated into question mode, and I handled him in such a way as to force him to reveal the purpose of his query:

ProfMTH: So your contention is that the above-quoted is the sum and substance of the fallacy, is that correct?

ME: My contention is that I'm not violating it at all, and that your own appeal/claim earlier was erroneous...and that's all. I quote legit there's no fallacy.

That’s another thing that can be done if you see one of these nits playing the Question Game, of course: If you can figure out where they’re going with it (and with mental midgets like these, that isn’t hard) you can short-circuit their debate games by making them be more explicit. It only works, though, again, if you have a good idea where they’re going with the questions (which can take experience as well as knowledge).
As of this typing, he's still repeating himself -- but of course, I did tell him it was a trap. ;)

If you’re of a mind, pop in and have a few jabs at ProfMTH yourself – or if you think I’m doing it just fine as is, get some popcorn and enjoy the view:

The Professor Takes His Cut

Down for the Count (but no comments from him yet as of this typing)

It's Time to Go, ProfMTH!

The Biblical Scholar's Court


  1. I notice that with people like ProfM he stays Christians and scholars are not authority but quotes himself as one knowing that an appeal authority is claiming some as one when they are not. Notice when he is refuted he results to what I like to call carpet bombing by throwing out questions to avoid the issue which is a total red herring on his part. Location is not important well ProfM you might as well throw out history based on that statement as historical events are based on Who What Where and how and why.

  2. Indeed so. I also noted in more recent comments that to judge arguments by their "merits," as he says, you have to have a certain amount of knowledge (in other words, AUTHORITY) to judge those merits. I also noted that he reads popular books by Crossan, Vermes, etc -- why would he need to do that if using them would just be arguing from authority?

    As for the "where" question...well, guess what today's Forge post will be about.... ;)