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If You Can't Dazzle Them With Brilliance...


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An observation I've made recently is that a lot of religiously-based arguments seem to be quite poorly written, when compared with arguments against religiously-based positions.

 

Yesterday I found myself reading the page on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry entitled 'Can Atheists Be Ethical?', and in my view, they bloody well should be apologising for this one. Although I can recall a time when I would have agreed with their position, I found their argument to be simplistic and ineffectively expressed. It showed no understanding, as far as I could tell, of the vast range of possible ethical positions, and presented only a black-or-white case. The whole article, in fact, seemed to be based on a false dichotomy.

 

When I compare the likes of this article - and others that I've been reading on Answers In Genesis and other Christian websites - to something like The Greatest Show On Earth, which I'm currently reading, I am always struck by the stylistic difference. Dawkins's prose is clear, elegant and accessible, and eminently persuasive. Now, I guess I'm probably biased against the Christian/Creationist camp, but content aside, I am continually finding that non-religious writers just seem to be better at arguing, and better at writing altogether.

 

Another example would be Peter Singer's arguments regarding, amongst other things, abortion. I've read tons of anti-abortion invective on various websites, and once again I can recall a time when I would have wholeheartedly supported the so-called pro-life side, but once again their arguments are flawed. They all seem to be written in a highly emotive manner, and some writers just descend to incoherent raving. Singer, on the other hand, writes about abortion in a very matter-of-fact manner (one reason that anti-abortionists hate him, I suspect), putting the case clearly that it is sentience and personhood, not membership of the human species, that should count morally in any decision about abortion.

 

An insight I had years ago (after trying - and failing - to read Derrida; I found Sartre much more accessible) was that the difference between good academic writing and bad academic writing was that the bad writers skirted around a point without ever actually making it, while the good writers first made their point, then expanded upon it. I think this is the difference I've been noticing. I'm sure many of you have read webpages attempting to argue for creationism, or some other religiously-based view, and have, like me, found them to be both convoluted and simplistic at the same time - quite a feat, really! I think many Christian and creationist writers seem to want to give the impression that they're somehow on a different intellectual plane than their readers, and that the problem lies with the reader if they don't understand the reasoning.

 

I wonder if this is because, deep down, these writers know that their position is fundamentally irrational, and are trying to bury that knowledge beneath layers of unnecessarily complicated argument and ponderous prose...

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I guess that's why it's called apologetics. Because they should be apologizing for their ridiculous arguments.

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An observation I've made recently is that a lot of religiously-based arguments seem to be quite poorly written, when compared with arguments against religiously-based positions.

 

Even when I was a Christian, I thought that some of the stuff Christians were pushing just wasn't very convincing. For example, there was this big thing about giving people "The Case For Christ," but when I read the book myself, even though at the time I agreed with Strobel's conclusions, I could see that the book would not be very convincing to someone who was really looking for strong evidence. I thought it should have been written better. Now I realize that he simply didn't have much to go on.

 

Yesterday I found myself reading the page on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry entitled 'Can Atheists Be Ethical?', and in my view, they bloody well should be apologising for this one.

 

Oh, they apologize alright. Just not that kind of apologizing. ;)

 

Another example would be Peter Singer's arguments regarding, amongst other things, abortion. I've read tons of anti-abortion invective on various websites, and once again I can recall a time when I would have wholeheartedly supported the so-called pro-life side, but once again their arguments are flawed. They all seem to be written in a highly emotive manner, and some writers just descend to incoherent raving. Singer, on the other hand, writes about abortion in a very matter-of-fact manner (one reason that anti-abortionists hate him, I suspect), putting the case clearly that it is sentience and personhood, not membership of the human species, that should count morally in any decision about abortion.

 

I may have to look up this guy. I've changed my stance on abortion regarding the early phase of pregnancy, since there are no brainwaves and, therefore, there is no cruelty factor to contend with, since the fetus doesn't have an active nervous system with which to feel pain. After brainwaves are present, though, I find it more difficult to accept abortion. However, I've been curious lately about reading some good materials from the pro-choice side, so maybe I'll have to finally do it.

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I may have to look up this guy. I've changed my stance on abortion regarding the early phase of pregnancy, since there are no brainwaves and, therefore, there is no cruelty factor to contend with, since the fetus doesn't have an active nervous system with which to feel pain. After brainwaves are present, though, I find it more difficult to accept abortion. However, I've been curious lately about reading some good materials from the pro-choice side, so maybe I'll have to finally do it.

 

I have also changed my stance on abortion. I used to be quite adamantly against it at any stage of pregnancy, but I've since been convinced that up to a certain stage, the foetus is not formed sufficiently to experience pain, and thus it's only anthropocentrism that makes people think of it as a being worthy of moral consideration in its own right. I'm still a little sketchy on later-term abortions and it would be nice to think that for the most part, they are avoidable; although I'm leaning towards the notion that birth is the only practical point at which the foetus/baby can come in for moral consideration as a being separate from the mother.

 

If you're interested in reading some of Peter Singer's work, here is a useful website:

http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/

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