Friday, August 17, 2012

The truth in all things

"Do I need to know the finer details of fairy tales to disprove them?"  This question is often posed by rather ill informed atheists who, after it is pointed out to them that they have no idea what they are talking about, attempt to deflect the criticism of their argument that suffers from the problem of being a strawman.  It is a cheap rhetorical tactic that betrays at best a casual attitude toward the truth.

 The correct answer to this question is, "Yes, if you want to disprove fairy tales."  If someone were to come up to me saying that the Tooth Fairy is real, I would express skepticism.  But what I would not do is attempt to argue that this person was wrong without finding out what this person actually believed.  To argue against a misconception of another's opinion is not only futile when attempting to convince another of their error but also calls into question my commitment to the truth.

One of the effects of relativism is a devastating attitude toward honesty when representing the opinions of another.  This is especially true when those opinions are that which we disagree with.  But if relativism holds, then not only is the truth whatever I claim it to be, the opinions of others are also what I claim them to be.  Thus logically whatever another says can mean whatever I want it to.

Pick any topic of conversation.  I'll give you a sec.  Ok, good.  How often is your view misrepresented by those who disagree with you?  All the time?  I thought so.  Now think about this.  Most likely you have misrepresented them as well.

That's because it is a whole lot easier to take down a caricature of an idea you disagree with rather than the actual idea.  Working with the real idea takes time.  Time to understand.  Time to express it.  We simply aren't interested in ideas that disagree with out perceptions, let alone take the time to dive in to accurately represent them.

The problem with this is that it is little more than lying.  You lie to yourself when you disagree with someone based on a caricature of their ideas.  You lie to others when you misrepresent another's views.  In short, the entire disagreement is based on views that simply aren't true.

This is particularly a problem for naturalist atheists who employ a "Last Man Standing" style of debate.  This method attempts to not defend Naturalism per se but attempts to take down any contenders by "disproving" them.  As can be imagined with such an illogical and inefficient strategy, it falls short in the accuracy department as well.

We do ourselves no favors when we misrepresent those we disagree with.  We can argue with them. We can point out that we think there position actually leads to an absurdity.  But to be careless to the point of misrepresenting another is to spread misinformation.  To persist after being corrected is to lie.

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