Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Such Thing as a Wrong Answer

I recently attended a lecture by George H. Smith, best known as the author of Atheism: The Case Against God, entitled “10 Questions about Atheism" in Bloomington, IL. He made a point later on during the Q & A that I want to expand on.

Smith described how, if you go to a professor of academic philosophy and tell him about a significant conclusion you’ve reached, he may ask you “oh really, how did you figure that out?” You go over your process, and he says “well, that’s interesting, but you’ve based it on unsound reasoning here, you’re working on a couple of fallacies at this point and this other point, and I think you probably want to fix these problems.” Philosophy professors, he said, are not so much concerned with your conclusion as they are with the process by which you got there. If you have fundamental problems, they’ll send you back to square one.

Now, contrast that with a Christian philosopher. Smith pointed out how, if you go to one of them and say you’ve accepted Christianity, they won’t question your reasons one bit. There’s no wrong answer you can give, Smith said, you might as well say you saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a potato chip. (I’ve seen others talk about songs they heard at apropos moments, religious bumper stickers that crossed their path, and other such coincidental agency-detection.) Smith asked the audience: can you think of any reason, any motivation, any process or evidence you could give that would cause a religious philosopher or apologist to say, “sorry, that’s no good, you need to go back to the drawing board?” Of course not. The baptismal font is right this way, we’re so glad to have you.

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