Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Strong Arguments and Offensive Conclusions

In an anonymous comment to yesterday’s post on "Dim-Witted, Hypocritical, Hate-Mongering Bigots," a reader wrote, “I reserve the right to criticize religion.”

Actually, nothing that I wrote implies that there is no right to criticize religion. What I wrote was a criticism of using unsound arguments in any form of criticism, and that the argument, “Some members of a group have done evil; therefore, all members of that group are evil.” It is an argument that can be used to say, “Some Darwinists have done evil; therefore evolutionary theory itself is evil,” or “Some Christians have done evil, so Christianity itself is evil.”

If you have a deductively sound argument with demonstrably true premises, or an inductively strong argument with well supported premises, then (except in very rare and circumstances) you have a right to present that argument. The fact that somebody else does not like the conclusion of a sound argument is (or should be taken to be) the problem of those who do not like the conclusion, not of those who have a sound argument to present. The problem rests with those who want to bury the truth, not with those who seek to present and defend it.

In this blog, I have delivered my own attacks on religion. In the posting, "Fact-Based vs. Fiction-Based Policies." I expressed the importance of knowing the difference between fact and fiction – of drawing conclusions based on evidence. I wrote of how fiction-based policies are more likely to get people killed, maimed, or otherwise harmed.

In another post titled "Talk to the Kids" h I wrote about the importance of tutoring children in how to tell truth from fiction in order to prevent themselves from becoming a threat to themselves and others.

In neither case did I use the invalid inference, “Some Christians have done evil; therefore, all Christians are evil.” It’s a bad argument, and I promise never to use it for that reason.

The Structure of Reasoned Criticism

In yesterday’s posting, I attempted to follow what I consider to be the morally appropriate model for legitimate criticism. Each time, my criticism of those responsible for producing and distributing the video “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” took two steps in deliberate order.

Step 1: Demonstrate that the argument is flawed.

Step 2: Explain the moral flaw in the character of a person inclined to make the mistake identified in Step 1.

Example 1: The inference from "Some Darwinists derive unfounded moral principles" to "All Darwinists are evil" is an invalid inference. It is just as invalid as the inference, "Some Christians have used the Bible to defend slavery; therefore, all Christians are evil." Yet, there are Christians who condemn slavery. It is hardly just to condemn all Christians as defenders of slavery when there are clearly some Christians who condemn slavery. Accordingly, it is just as unjust to condemn all those who believe in evolution as responsible for the Holocaust and eugenics because some used Darwin’s theory to defend the Holocaust and eugenics.

After I demonstrated that the inference being used is invalid, then I went on to ask the question, “What is the moral character of the person inclined to make this type of mistake?” I suggested that the type of person likely to use these flawed types of arguments are dim-witted, hypocritical, hate-mongering bigots.

Example 2: I criticized any who would actually try to draw conclusions in defense of the Holocaust or eugenics from Darwin's theory of evolution. Any attempt at this line of reasoning makes an invalid logical leap from ‘is’ premises to ‘ought’ conclusions. Again, once we have identified that the form of reasoning is flawed, we can conclude that those who did not see this flaw were those who did not want to see it. Those who did not want to see the flaw would be those who found value in the conclusions they were trying to defend. In other words, those who did not want to see the flaw are dim-witted, hypocritical, hate-mongering bigots looking for any excuse they can find to give their hate an air of legitimacy.

In both of these examples, the demonstration of a logical error came before the moral accusation against those who are guilty of that error. In neither case did I argue from a premise that stated that, "Before we even look at the quality of the arguments being used, we must begin with the principle that it is wrong to derive these types of conclusions.”

In other words, having a sound deductive argument or a strong inductive argument – an argument immune to criticism – would have been sufficient to defend against the type of criticism I used in my post. If you have a sound criticism to make against religion, my objections do not work. They only work against those who use invalid arguments or unfounded premises.

Sound Reasoning and Offensive Conclusions

This discussion leads to another principle that I have been wanting to discuss for quite a while now. It is the principle that offense is not a legitimate rebuttal to a logically strong argument.

In short, if a (likely) truth is offensive, then the fault lies with those who are offended by and who refuse to accept the truth. It does not rest with those who wish to present or defend that truth.

Here is an example of the type of argument that I have in mind in expressing this principle:

(1) The physical bodies of men and women are structurally different in part because of genetic differences – because men have Y chromosomes where women have X chromosomes.

(2) These physical differences result in differences in physical aptitude. Recognizing that the concepts of “male” and “female” each represent a range of aptitudes, and that those ranges overlap, it is still the case that there are gender-related differences in the range of physical aptitudes that can be linked to genetic factors.

(3) The brain in a physical entity. When we are talking about structural differences in male and female bodies due to genetic differences, we must include in this differences in the physical structure of male and female brains. At the very least, we must account for the fact that women are disposed to desire sex with men and men are disposed to desire sex with women.

(4) Just as differences in the physical bodies of men and women imply different ranges of physical aptitudes, it is reasonable to expect that differences in the physical brains of men and woman will imply different ranges in mental aptitudes.

I suspect that there are people who would react rather violently to item (4) on this list. They wish to assert that no morally concerned individual would ever even bring up this item – that moral people will bury it and never refuse to consider it as true.

They do have a legitimate reason for concern. There are people (dim-witted bigots) who will take (4) and draw bigoted conclusions from it. They may conclude, for example, that a woman’s place is in the home and women are not fit to run a business or a government. The idea of different aptitudes will cause some to make unjustified assertions as to one gender being ‘better’ than the other.

I am not making any assertions as to what these differences are. I have not even said that their are any. I have simply said that the fact that genetic differences affect the physical structure of the body, including the brain, that it is not unreasonable to find differences. I would leave that up to scientists to reveal what those differences are, if they exist.

However, for others, avoiding the situation of people in power - or whole cultural segments - drawing unjustified and bigoted conclusions from such premises, we are supposed to suppress the premises. We are told that the moral person would even consider possibly being true, regardless of any argument that can be brought to its defense.

However, please note that this is the same form of argument that those involved in the production “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” are using in their film. They wish to argue that Darwinism, even if true, is something that Hitler-like people will think (incorrectly, as it turns out) that they can use to defend the holocaust. In order to prevent people from making these invalid inferences, they argue that we must bury the premises (even if they are true) that would be used in these attempts.

This policy is actually a policy that says that we, as a society, are not going to take a stand against the bigot’s disposition to draw invalid (bigoted) conclusions from true premises. Instead, we are going to accept their practice without question and without contest. Instead, we are going to bury propositions that they might misuse and not even consider whether they are true or false.

This means that we are going to tolerate the bigot’s form of reasoning from true premises to unjustified hate, and condemn any truth that they might find useful.

I suggest, instead, that we promote a love of truth, and a hatred for the bigot's disposition to argue from true premises to unjustified hate.

My proposal is this:

Offense is not a legitimate objection to a strong argument. The person who is offended by truth is the one with a problem, not the person who can defend his conclusions through strong argument.

However, the use of a weak argument gives us an opportunity to ask, "Why, of all of the mistakes that this person could have made, did they make this mistake?" If it is a mistake that a dim-witted, hypocritical, hate-mongering bigot would make, this gives us reason to ask if the perpetrator is a dim-witted, hypocritical, hate-mongering bigot. We do have right to be offended at the mistakes that people make, when they are mistakes that reveal an affection for hate. However, there must first be a mistake.

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