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Emperor's new clothes [Jun. 4th, 2008|12:51 pm]
zarbi
Not that I want to moan, but PZ has done it again:
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/06/another_blithering_apologist.php#comments


"Yet nowhere in his ramble does Tingley ever give any evidence or rational reason to believe in his god or any god — in fact, he triumphantly declares that there is no evidence — god exists, but (I can scarcely believe he makes this argument seriously) he's hiding…hiding in such a way that only someone "muscled up with virtues" can see him. It's the Emperor's New Clothes argument all over again."

No, it isn't. That is not what "The Emperor's New Clothes" is about. It isn't about not presenting evidence. It isn't about belief without evidence. It is about pretending to believe so as not to cause trouble. It is about undue respect. It is about pointing out the obvious that everyone really already knows. The problem with theologists is that they don't accept what we think is obvious.

It is a very subtle tale, indicating how deferring to authority can lead to lies and hypocrisy, along with a sense that that behaviour is somehow appropriate. It is also about cowardice - no-one daring to point out the obvious; it takes the naivety of a child in the story.

I think there is a mild danger of PZ blunting this subtle message - at least amongst the very many who read his blog.
LinkReply

Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-04 01:50 pm (UTC)
Yes the Emperors new clothes is one of my favourite tales. How about leaving a comment on his blog, or sending an email?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-04 01:53 pm (UTC)
I see no point. Anything even mildly critical on the blog is flamed (been there, experienced it). E-mails are ignored (from past experience).

All I can do is blog here and hope, or perhaps post something on a visible thread on RD.net, where a less fawning attitude is acceptable.

By the way, this is not anti-PZ. I have a lot of admiration for him. I just think he is messing things up a bit here.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-04 07:38 pm (UTC)
It's not just about pretending to believe. The people in the tale apparently do believe that the clothes exist (or at least dare not question it) and are afraid to confess that they don't see the evidence. PZ's quip is not in perfect analogy with the tale, but it fits this part perfectly: "the cloth... is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

-windy
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-04 07:50 pm (UTC)
It is the "dare not question it" that is the theme of the tale for me.

I don't think the "too stupid and incompetent" works. You see, theologists don't think the clothes are invisible. They don't have to be tricked into seeing what is not there. They believe they are actually seeing something.

The tale, to me, seems to be about setting up a known fraud. In theology, they don't believe they are being fraudulent.

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-04 08:43 pm (UTC)
Hi Steve,

my first post here, but we know from Richard's site, where I post under the name "decius".

I think PZ isn't referring to the original fairy tale, but to his own by-now-famous Courtier's Reply , which was loosely based on it, and used the metaphor of invisible clothes precisely for belief without evidence.
I suggest that you try and look at his most recent post under this light, which makes your criticism seem a bit odd, if I may say so.

Best
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-04 08:59 pm (UTC)
Hi decius

I realise I am being very pedantic here, but I enjoy that! Forgive me if it is irritating.

PZ does explicitly mention "The Emperor's New Clothes" in a recent post, and the original Courtier's Reply was supposed to be a reference to that tale.

It is my feeling that PZ has taken a very subtle and clever story, and reduced it to a simplistic "Your arguments don't really exist" jibe. Even though I loved the language of his Courtier's Reply, I think it is misplaced.

In a way, PZ Myers (and Dawkins too) seem to be introducing a new form of the NOMA argument: There are two areas of thought, science and theology, and unless God is shown to exist, then theology and science don't interact and theological arguments don't need to be dealt with.

What this misses is that theologists do try and use reason and even science to make their case. Examples of this are first cause arguments and recent forays into the subject of evolution by the philosopher and theologist Alvin Plantinga.

The use of the Courtier's Reply neglects that these arguments aren't based on the assumption that there already is a God, they are supposedly justifications for believing in God. I think they need to be dealt with.

So, I don't just believe that PZ's statements on this, eloquent and witty though they are, are an incorrect reading of the "New Clothes" tale, they are also attempting to justify neglecting important debates.

However, I could be misinterpreting things, and I am, of course, open to being persuaded otherwise.

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-04 10:48 pm (UTC)
Examples of this are first cause arguments and recent forays into the subject of evolution by the philosopher and theologist Alvin Plantinga.

When has PZ had a go at this? IMO he's having a go at the theologians who take God as a given and describe him. You seem to assume he's having an attack on all believers or philosophers who write apologetics. I think the courtiers reply is squarely aimed at theologians only. A bit like the God delusion isn't aimed at all religious thought.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-06 12:21 am (UTC)
When has PZ had a go at this? IMO he's having a go at the theologians who take God as a given and describe him.

The Courtier's Reply was a direct response to H. Allen Orr's review of TGD, in which he says:

"The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins's failure to engage religious thought in any serious way."
....
Re-reading, I can see what you are saying. Much of what Orr writes does imply that Dawkins should deal with religous thought without having to deal with the issue of God's existence, even though it isn't explicit.

Oh dear. I think I may be wrong, or at least not as right as I thought I was.



Edited at 2008-06-06 12:23 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-04 11:18 pm (UTC)
It is the "dare not question it" that is the theme of the tale for me.

Surely there are multiple themes in the original story you can choose to emphasize, not only a single correct one.

You said:
It is about pointing out the obvious that everyone really already knows.

No, the people didn't realize that the clothes did not exist, until the boy spoke up. They assumed the clothes exist and were pretending to see the evidence. The emperor thought he was clothed until the end, where "The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that."

I don't think the "too stupid and incompetent" works. You see, theologists don't think the clothes are invisible. They don't have to be tricked into seeing what is not there. They believe they are actually seeing something.

Forget the fraud angle for a while. The analogy of the theologians and the tailors lies in what they tell others:

Q: If the emperor has clothes, why can't I see them?
A: You are too stupid and incompetent.

Q: If God exists, why can't I see any evidence for him?
Tingley: You are not muscled up with virtues. You don't have a genuine readiness to know.

Looks analogous to me. PZ's analogy is about how a claim is insulated from evidence. Looks like both of you are only discussing a limited aspect of the story.

-windy
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-05 08:42 am (UTC)
No, the people didn't realize that the clothes did not exist, until the boy spoke up. They assumed the clothes exist and were pretending to see the evidence. The emperor thought he was clothed until the end, where "The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that."

That isn't how I see the story at all.

People didn't see the clothes, but didn't dare speak out for fear of looking stupid. That is not the case with theologians.

Looks analogous to me. PZ's analogy is about how a claim is insulated from evidence. Looks like both of you are only discussing a limited aspect of the story.

But the claim isn't insulated from evidence by most theologians. They think there is evidence.

This is one of my problems with PZ's approach. It is begging the question that others aren't seeing what they think is evidence.

In order to show that there isn't evidence, you have to engage with the theologists.

If PZ's use was appropriate, then creationists would be justified in saying that his explanation of evolution is a "Courtier's Reply", as they could beg the question and say he is stating evidence where there is none!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-05 04:37 pm (UTC)
That isn't how I see the story at all. People didn't see the clothes, but didn't dare speak out for fear of looking stupid.

That doesn't contradict anything I said. I suggest you re-read the original story. People didn't see the clothes, but they initially assumed they exist, otherwise the story makes no sense. So it is about belief without evidence, too.

But the claim isn't insulated from evidence by most theologians. They think there is evidence. This is one of my problems with PZ's approach. It is begging the question that others aren't seeing what they think is evidence.

It's not an answer to all theologians. I see it as the answer to people who say "I can't show you the evidence, but there are people more sophisticated than me and I'm sure they have the evidence, they have written about it oh so eloquently." or "You can't see the evidence because you aren't sophisticated enough".

as they could beg the question and say he is stating evidence where there is none!

Of course they can always say that. They say that no matter what PZ says! But we can show someone the evidence without saying that they have to read the original Darwin, or saying that they need some undefined purity of heart to see the fossils.

-windy
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-05 05:08 pm (UTC)
That doesn't contradict anything I said. I suggest you re-read the original story. People didn't see the clothes, but they initially assumed they exist, otherwise the story makes no sense. So it is about belief without evidence, too.

Not for the theologians, I would say. The equivalent of the theologians would be the tailors.

Or rather not, as they know there are no clothes.

It's not an answer to all theologians. I see it as the answer to people who say "I can't show you the evidence, but there are people more sophisticated than me and I'm sure they have the evidence, they have written about it oh so eloquently." or "You can't see the evidence because you aren't sophisticated enough".

But the Courtier's Reply was indeed targeted generally - it was a response to complaints that Dawkins had not dealt with theological arguments in general.

Of course they can always say that. They say that no matter what PZ says! But we can show someone the evidence without saying that they have to read the original Darwin, or saying that they need some undefined purity of heart to see the fossils.

You are extrapolating from what one or two theologians say to many, many of them. That is wrong. For example, Plantinga and Lane Craig really do believe there is logical justification for believing in deities; they don't invoke "purity of heart". And yet, the "Courtier's Reply" was, in effect, used to justify not responding to them too.

This illustrates my point: metaphors and parables have been used coarsely as rather ineffective blunt instruments (in fact, I would say that they had missed the target). If they had been targeted more precisely and appropriately, they could have been far more effective.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-05 10:29 pm (UTC)

But the Courtier's Reply was indeed targeted generally - it was a response to complaints that Dawkins had not dealt with theological arguments in general.


I thought it was because Dawkins hadn't dealt with 'sophisticated' theological arguments. Not with all. Also, you seem to want to generalize by including Planting, Lane Craig and Swinburne who are philosophers (broadly speaking) not theologians. Or am I making a false distinction?

Brian.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-05 10:33 pm (UTC)
Hi Brian

I am not sure your distinctions matter. It was that Dawkins wasn't addressing some kind of theological arguments. As long as it wasn't specifically "the kinds that are really rather transparent" my point holds, I think :)

Also, I think it was fair to mention those chaps, as they have made comments wearing their theologist hats as it were.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ext_99752
2008-06-05 10:31 pm (UTC)

Priorities

If the Emperor has no clothes, discussion about the craftsmanship of his tailors is silly.

If there is no God, theology is silly.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-05 10:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Priorities

I see what you are saying, but.... many of the theological arguments are about the existence of the clothes, not the craftmanship of the tailors.

The theology that is about the nature of God is silly if there is no God - but not the theology that attempts to show that God exists. The first is question-begging, the second isn't. The No Clothes argument deals with the first, but not the second.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-05 11:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Priorities

Steve, you are a pedantic bugger. I say that as a compliment. Still, if we are loose with our thinking or argumentation. Theists will hold that up to our faces to demonstrate that we don't have coherent arugments or whatever. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-06 12:12 am (UTC)

Re: Priorities

I would wear a T-shirt with the phrase "pedantic bugger" with pride :)

It would be so right, in more than one way!


Edited at 2008-06-06 12:13 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-06 12:22 am (UTC)
This illustrates my point: metaphors and parables have been used coarsely as rather ineffective blunt instruments (in fact, I would say that they had missed the target). If they had been targeted more precisely and appropriately, they could have been far more effective.

But isn't precision a matter of opinion since you can interpret the parable in multiple ways? (it's a fairy tale, after all, and will not map perfectly on to reality) You find PZ's metaphor inaccurate because the theologians don't match the tailors. I found your interpretation inaccurate because the people actually did believe in invisible clothing. Maybe this is a warning against using parables in general but I don't think you have established that your interpretation was more "precise" :)

-windy
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-06 01:00 am (UTC)
I have looked over this whole matter again, and I now feel that PZ's use of metaphor was indeed accurate.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ext_99752
2008-06-06 12:22 am (UTC)

A rose by any other name...

Claims regarding the existence or non-existence of god(s) are factual claims. Calling them "theology" doesn't help.

If a theologist, plumber, psychologist, physicist, window washer, or frog collector can back up some claim regarding god(s) existence, let's hear it.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-06-06 12:28 am (UTC)

Re: A rose by any other name...

Oh dear. You lot are beginning to confuse me.

Having re-read the original Orr review on which the Courtier's Reply was based, I can see definite Emperor's New Clothes similarities that I had not quite got on first reading.

And now this. I think I see your point. Calling a discussion "theological" by its very nature assumes that Gods are worth discussing. It is a bit like "UFOlogy".

So, we need to establish the existence of Gods before we allow the use of the term "theology".

I finally get it!
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