Saturday, December 6, 2008

Arguments, God, and Noisemaking

John Cole reprises the role of Captain Obvious so the rest of us don't have to, making the claim that god-based arguments are not persuasive:

[I]f I wanted to live in accordance to rules as set by your faith, I would join your church. Until then, until you see me sitting two pews over on Sunday morning, just assume that I really don’t care what your God thinks. I don’t want the rules of your faith imposed upon me by the government, just as I do not desire the government telling me to live under the rules of Cardinal Ratzinger, the Church of Latter Day Saints, Sharia law, Wikkan rules, Buddhist tenets, and on and on and on. Nor do I think you should have to lives under laws that force you to adhere to the religious principles of someone else.
Not everyone sees it as obvious, of course. Cole was replying to Daniel Larison, who does not accept Kathleen Parker's advice to frame arguments about public matters in secular terms. Larison:
[W]e would on the one hand need to say that arguments informed by religious teaching are to some degree irrational by definition (use faith over here, but use reason in public, which implies that there is nothing rational about faith or that the two are not complementary). On the other hand, we would also have to say that our public arguments cannot invoke “values,” which are in any case derived from religious teaching and therefore unsuitable to public discourse.
Larison would do well to realize that "arguments informed by religious teachings" are irrational and are baseless according to most of the people living on earth -- Larison is a Catholic, but the point stands no matter which religious jersey the person making it wears, as there is no religion that claims a majority of people on earth; and they're also useless according to our best, most rigorous understanding of how the world fits together. There is no good reason to believe that religious (per se) teachings, whether Catholic teachings or other, amount to anything more than whistles in the dark. They're noise -- beside-the-point, off-base, question-begging, maddeningly distracting noise. As such they are not helpful, not a source of truth, and not a foundation of a persuasive argument.

Nor are they, for these same reasons, a meaningful foundation of the "values" Larison wants to invoke. The values may be defensible or not, but their defense will not be found in assertions about the commands, wills, plans, and histories of pretend entities from storybooks, no matter how noisily confident the assertions.

Larison cranks up the volume in a comment to the original post:
From a religious conservative perspective, the better argument is one that makes the most compelling and true case. Find me religious conservatives who think that omitting God from the debate will make their argument more compelling.
Er, exactly. I readily concede that I cannot find such a religious conservative, and this is precisely the problem with religious conservatives and the arguments they make. The religiously conservative Muslim ululating phrases from the Koran in favor of an anti-Israel screed, the Rabbi yelling justifications for belligerence he found in writings attributed to Moses, the Evangelical Christian screaming about abortion based on something he found in the Gospel of Mark: this is all the same flawed noise. They find themselves supremely convincing, but they are not. To everyone outside their religious frame -- most of the world and most all of science, history, and philosophy -- they're making noise where an argument should be.

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