July 31, 2012
People who eschew party lines in favor of critical thought always win my respect, and on that note Jeff Lowder is awesome. Over at Secular Outpost, he’s taken Chris Hallquist to task over Hallquist’s smearing and libeling of William Lane Craig as a “liar.” As one who’s suffered through such libel first hand, I’m sympathetic to Lowder’s case. Hallquist has responded, and today I’d like to focus on a snippet that perfectly illustrates the danger of letting emotion lead the brain. Before we start, I’d like to point out that Hallquist has this much going for him: he concedes the difficulty of knowing intent, which is precisely what is required to establish claims of lying. He writes,
Furthermore, Jeff is right to ask how I know Craig is being intentionally deceptive, as opposed to honestly mistaken, in particular cases. This is hard to know.
Unfortunately, Hallquist doesn’t heed his own advice.
UPDATE: it appears John Loftus has also stepped forward to condemn Hallquist. I never thought I’d being saying this, but I must also salute John Loftus in this regard! Good on you, Loftus!
For context, Lowder thinks Hallquist was wrong to libel Craig as a liar. In response, after providing alleged “evidence” of Craig’s dishonesty in the Harris / Craig debate on morality, Hallquist writes,
Hey Jeff, can I call Craig a liar now?
No, he can’t. Let’s assess Hallquist’s “evidence” to see why not. Hallquist quotes Harris:
We are being offered a psychopathic and psychotic moral attitude… it is psychopathic because this is a total detachment from the, from the well-being of human beings. It, this so easily rationalizes the slaughter of children. Ok, just think about the Muslims at this moment who are blowing themselves up, convinced that they are agents of God’s will. There is absolutely nothing that Dr. Craig can s—can say against their behavior, in moral terms, apart from his own faith-based claim that they’re praying to the wrong God. If they had the right God, what they were doing would be good, on Divine Command theory.
Now, I’m obviously not saying that all that Dr. Craig, or all religious people, are psychopaths and psychotics, but this to me is the true horror of religion. It allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions, what only lunatics could believe on their own.
Okay, Harris clarified: he isn’t calling Craig, or all religious people, psychopaths or psychotics. However, Harris *DID* call the “moral attitude” (read: belief) both psychopathic and psychotic, and he also said that “otherwise sane and decent people” can hold psychopathic or psychotic beliefs. Next, Hallquist quotes Craig’s response:
[Harris] also says it’s “psychopathic” to believe these things. Now, that remark is just as stupid as it is insulting. It is absurd to think that Peter van Inwagen here at the University of Notre Dame is psychopathic, or that a guy like Dr. Tom Flint, who is as gracious a Christian gentlemen as I could have ever met, is psychopathic. Uh, this is simply, uh, below the belt.
Then, without even providing a critical assessment of the options like we might expect from a “freethinker” ostensibly committed to reason, Hallquist leaps to condemn Craig:
This is a disgusting smear against Harris, and I am sickened and angered every time I think about it. Harris explicitly said that he was not saying what Craig insinuates he was saying. Hey Jeff, can I call Craig a liar now?
Let’s temporarily ignore the hypocrisy of Hallquist whining about Craig “smearing” Harris after Hallquist just dedicated an entire series of posts to smearing Craig as a “liar.” At least Craig didn’t stoop to *THAT* level! Instead, let’s assess the facts and see what sort of options are available besides “Craig is a liar.”
Harris *DID* say the moral attitude (belief) was psychopathic. Harris *DID* say that religion makes otherwise sane and decent people believe psychopathic things. Craig *DIDN’T* say, “It is absurd to think that Peter van Inwagen here at the University of Notre Dame is a psychopath.” Craig *DID* clarify that he understood Harris as saying, “it’s psychopathic to believe such things.” That is a fair reading of Harris’ words, and Craig’s comment makes perfect sense when read in the context Harris established: Craig didn’t turn around and accuse Harris of calling people like van Inwagen psychopaths and psychotics. Rather, Craig said it’s absurd to imply that people like van Inwagen are psychopathic simply because they support God’s judgment of the Canaanites. That is exactly what Harris alleged.
Undoubtedly, some readers will think this is just another issue of semantics. There will be those who accuse me of “lying for Craig” just as they accuse Craig of “lying for Jesus.” If that’s your opinion, so be it. I can abandon this distinction entirely and still make the case that Hallquist departed from cold reason.
Let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s say Craig omitted the clarification about understanding Harris as saying, “it’s psychopathic to believe these things.” Then let’s say Craig straight-out replied, “It is absurd to think that Peter van Inwagen here at the University of Notre Dame is a psychopath.” Then, yes, Craig would be guilty of attributing to Harris precisely the claim Harris distanced himself from. However, even then, a rational person shouldn’t just rush for the tar-and-feathers and libel another human being as a “liar.” After all, how many times has Hallquist, in the heat of debate, mistakenly interpreted or overlooked something an interlocutor said? It’s quite easy to do, especially in such an emotionally charged topic as (a)theism, presumably more so in public debate where the stakes are high. We’ve all made these types of mistakes whether we blog or not. Unfortunately misunderstanding is widespread amongst human beings. Therefore, there are at least three options here:
I don’t know about you, but I think a truly rational person should consider all possible conclusions before judging. It is telling that Hallquist doesn’t even examine 2 or 3. Rather, he goes straight for 1 and simply assumes he has knowledge of Craig’s intent, then calls him a “liar” with apparent disregard for his own claim that it was hard to verify intent! To call Craig a “liar” means Hallquist has knowledge of Craig’s intent, and as Hallquist said himself, that is hard. How in the world can Hallquist possibly have knowledge of Craig’s intent? No critical thinking, no cross-examination, nothing. Hallquist just points, aims, and shoots.
Well, it’s easy to say you’ve got a bullseye when you draw circles around wild arrows. Personally, I think Hallquist has betrayed his commitments to reason and rationality, and I think he owes Craig a public apology. We’ll see what happens next.