Thursday, June 28, 2012

Are Christians Intellectually Stupid?


One thing about this blog is that it attracts readers from both sides of the aisle in regards to Christianity and Christian belief..  Many now despise Christianity while others find deep richness in it for their lives.  Others are devout believers that also believe in  evolution and do not take the Bible as being literal.  These folk are disconcerting to both camps. In spite of that, most here have at least found the freedom to use their brain instead of letting others tell them what to believe and how to believe it.  I think we all had enough of that!

Someone forwarded me a link tonight to a recent article by Joe Tkach Jr about this very issue.  I am curious as to your take on this:

On a flight to Dallas last week, my seatmate was James – a nice fellow in his late twenties. James was somewhat full of his intellectual capacity and thought the world was full of stupid people. Christians, he explained, were exceptionally stupid, because they seemed to be oblivious to the discoveries of science. In his estimation, they were like people who believed the earth was flat. James was obviously proud to consider himself an atheist.

I enjoyed the look on his face when I told him that I was one of those so-called ignorant Christians. I mentioned that he might not have heard of surveys showing that 40% of scientists are agnostics and 40% are Christian. I told him that I knew personally several believing scientists who work on the cutting edge of scientific discovery. I reminded him that Francis Collins, who was the director of the Human Genome Project, is a devout Christian. James seemed interested to hear more.

I told him that I am amused by TV characters like Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his “Bible belt” mother in the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory; and by Alice, the assistant to the vicar in the British sitcom Vicar of Dibley. I also admitted to him that some Christians would benefit from more education. But I told him that I’m annoyed that it is now acceptable to portray Christians as simpletons. These TV characters are definitely not typical of most Christians.

I explained to James that many of the concepts we grow up believing are myths. For example, there is the commonly held idea that even educated people in historic times believed that the earth was flat. However, the historical record does not support this idea. As noted by Jeffrey Russell (professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara) in Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians, the flat-earth theory is a fable used to denigrate pre-modern European civilizations.

The historic fact is that as far back as 330 BC, Aristotle pointed out that the shadow of the earth on the moon is always circular. In 240 BC, Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s spherical circumference. The Venerable Bede, who lived over 700 years before Columbus, explained the varying duration of daylight in terms of the roundness of earth, reasoning from the Bible that spoke of the “circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22).

Some of the most notable scientists through history were Christians. In the sixth century, philosopher and theologian John Philoponus anticipated the modern physics of light and atomic structure based on the doctrines of the Trinity and creation. Galileo was reading Philoponus as he calculated the movement of the stars, laying a foundation for our modern understanding of the cosmos.
Unaware of all this, James was intrigued. I hope I left him less sure that Christianity is only for dummies. I’d like to think I helped him shift in his thinking from being an atheist to an agnostic.

Of course, many assume that atheism and agnosticism are synonymous. They are not. There is a significant difference in the two. It is fashionable today to say you are an atheist. Writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins have made names for themselves by ridiculing religion in general and Christianity in particular. They have suggested that if Christians cannot convincingly demolish the atheist argument and prove God exists, the only sensible default position for an educated person is atheism. But hold on a minute. Atheists claim that God does not exist, so it is up to them to prove their point. They can’t, of course – philosophically you cannot prove a negative. When cornered, most atheists have to admit to really being agnostic. Agnostics say they do not know whether God exists. This is a reasonable position for people who have insufficient evidence (and/or interest!) to make a decision.

23 comments:

DennisCDiehl said...

I have concluded that it is just fine for everyone to be who and what they are and what their beliefs are at the time they are who and what they are and believe what they do.

Information and knowledge is processed differently by each mind. Perhaps that is the way it should be. It is why I have never understood the concept of how a group of minds can "all speak the same thing," and expect everyone to still maintain their personal integrity and authenticity. I don't think one can, at least without pressure from the group to conform.

Of course there are groups and organizations that allow, or say they allow for that, but few would have those who do not filter their world the same as those who run the show be known well and certainly not be allowed to present the alternative view. I supposed that leads to a disorganized organization.

One of the geologists at the Creationist Museum in Ky has a perfectly legitimate Ph.D in the field. When he speaks to visitors, he goes off into Biblical la la land that makes many cringe. The power of the religious view over powers the geologic view, IMHO. While having his PhD in geology, and it may even have been in astro physics, I doubt he'd survive speaking to his peers outside the museum.

It is not a function of of 40% of scientists are this or that. It is just processing information and facts as they present themselves and the conclusions can be myriad.

I do feel that filtering hard information and research through the Bible is a huge mistake and leads to erroneous conclusions. The reason seems to be that the conclusions have to match the Bible or they are wrong. Or perhaps the conclusions must meet the conclusions of literalist Christians view of the Bible. I serious doubt the Hebrews meant Genesis 1-ll to be taken all that literally but that is another story.

Filtering present information through Bronze Age views so that the Bronze Age or some other time past proves true just is not a valid way to be honest about how capable we are today to examine that which could only be explained by myth and mysticism in the past.

Again, Donald Prothero , in Evolution- What the Fossils say and Why It Matters, addresses this view and argument about fundamentalist scientists and their conclusions matching the teaching of the Bible very very well.

While it matters not, I consider myself agnostic. I don't know how to connect the Bible to the information we have today on origins. I don't know how to accept the information in the Bible with all it's other redactions, edits, Midrashic style of writing stories, conflict, contradictions and questionable origins and rewrites with one coherent way of understanding what is really true about many topics.

While Elijah may have gotten to see the rear end of the Deity in the Caves of Mt. Carmel, he was also sitting about 60 feet above some of the best Neanderthal skeletons on the planet.

Andrew said...

In 2006, Neil DeGrasse Tyson gave a lecture at an elite scientific symposium in which he cited the same study, that 90% of the general population, 40% of scientists and 15% of elite scientists are religious. Of course Tyson's take on that was how come that's 15% and not 0%, and don't bother going after the public for being a bunch of cave men if 15% of elite scientists are still cave men too.

On the way to making that point he cited some examples of notable scientists such as Newton, who when it came to writing about gravity and other things he could mathematically describe and calculate precisely, he never felt the need to mention god, but when he got to the limits of his understanding, suddenly he was struck with religious feeling and invoked what we today would call intelligent design.

The problem with invoking intelligent design is that it shuts down scientific curiosity, research, and discovery, and prevents those limits from being expanded. The limits of our current understanding are far beyond the limits of Newton's understanding, but only because people did not invoke god, and thus assume that the workings of the universe were of simply divine ordinance, forever beyond the reach of scientific discovery. Within the domain of science, god is a stumbling block to being effective and needs to be left out of the laboratory.

It may be a fact that 40% scientists are religious, but this allows you to draw absolutely no conclusions about religion or religious people in general. Joe Jr. seems to be using this fact to extrapolate that basically the choice to be religious is a universally intelligent choice, and that all religious people are also intelligent people, neither of which follow from the evidence. Tyson was using the same evidence to say that not only are 90% of the public dummies for believing in god, so are 40% of scientists! So, very different conclusions indeed from the same statistic.

However Joe Jr. is correct about agnostics vs. atheists. Atheism is not an intellectually honest position to take, but agnosticism is.

Douglas Becker said...

The real question is what is the percentage breakdowns of Christians, Scientists who are Christians, Atheists, scientists who claim to be atheists, agnostic and scientists who are agnostics by category have the anger gene?

Is the anger / Warrior gene a part of Intelligent Design, a natural selection advantage or both.

People can be tested for it at The Warrior Gene.

All Armstrongist ministers and ex ministers should take the test, although, we're pretty sure we know the results already from the aggressive characteristics of such people.

Anonymous said...

I read an article recently about the Loch Ness monster being found in a ‘science’ text book for Christian schools.
Click this to read the article.

Best comment I noticed was, "We live in a big country. There is plenty of room for people to believe this. It doesn't make the rest of us stupid."

And then, there's the Ark Park being built in Kentucky, and the Creation Museum. (By Young Earth Creationists who believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that that are dinosaurs on the Noah's Ark.)
And the Young Earth Creationists also believe in fire breathing dragons, as evidenced by these billboards advertising the Creation Museum.

Oh, and it reminds me of a person who wrote on a message board that it's "scientifically proven" that it would take "only a few generations" from Adam and Eve to end up with all the human types we have today.

There's nothing like "good science", and having a member of the Texas Legislature who believes the rest of the universe revolves around the Earth.

And then there's looney Christian Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann claiming the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.

And looney Christian candidate Christine O’Donnel claiming that "science" has created mice with fully functioning human brains.

The list goes on and on and on.

Who needs all that devilish fancy highfalutin' big city sciencey book-lernin', anyhow?

Norm

Anonymous said...

"Atheists claim that God does not exist, so it is up to them to prove their point."

Wow. This is the Stoopid Quote of the Week.

I also claim that leprechauns do not exist- therefore, is it up to me to prove my point? Is it my job to prove that Zeus does not exist?

When a person claims that an invisible, omnipotent supernatural being exists- for which there is no evidence whatsoever- it is on the believer to provide evidence. It's very simple.

I know very few atheists who claim that they are 100% sure that God does not exist. I don't. I accept that yes, there is a possibility that God exists- the same possibility I apply to Allah, leprechauns, and Darth Vader. To make a point that atheists are somehow intellectually dishonest is just rhetorical quibbling, a smokescreen, to divert people's attention away from the real issue- where is the evidence for the existence of God, or any god?

And what is the big deal anyway? If God is real, then why worry about what atheists say? Just show them the evidence for God, and they will shut up. But there's the problem, isn't it? There is no evidence for Thor. Or Allah. Or ghosts. Or Jehovah.

I am fine too with everyone believing what they want. But when their beliefs begin to affect the world around me through political and social action, then I am not fine with it all.

Paul R.

Allen C. Dexter said...

"I am fine too with everyone believing what they want. But when their beliefs begin to affect the world around me through political and social action, then I am not fine with it all."

And, therein lies the problem. These fanatics want to impose their beliefs on innocent children, write them into laws that force everyone to do as they wish, etc. -- all in the name of a god they can't offer any demonstrable proof even exists.

It's madness!

Anonymous said...

When I first read the comment Dennis made my thought was that Dennis has found happiness by making everyone look like monkeys, after I read it a couple more times I recognized that what we’re dealing with two important question about life.

One question deals with the universe or cosmic order and the other deals with our human awareness and thought. What is referred as “science” here too broad. The science discussed here deals with material side of life. The religious issues under discussion are those dealing with a non-material side of life. The Christian religion is a mix of Theology and Philosophy and the Christian bible is a simplistic story that starts with the Creator beginning human life and weaves a series of events that ends up with a perceived beginning of the Creators next step in an eternal purpose.

One weakness I see in the scientific efforts to explain the origin of life is the inability of giving a reasonable view of a beginning and perhaps an end or completion of everything. It should be obvious that the complexity of everything deals with laws and non-material things. Most of what is presented now is theory and trying to explain a past and future timeline with no beginning is difficult at least for me. Maybe some those commenting here can enlighten me.

Byker Bob said...

Many make mistaken generalities. Democrats and Republicans frequently call one another stupid simply based on partisanship.

Sweeping generalizations are a poignant example of oversimplification. Calling someone stupid immediately places them on the defensive. They've got to first address that issue to ensure that they are taken seriously.

We all know that there are people who are blessed with high powered IQs, and some who are barely functional. Some of lower intelligence have common sense and practicality, while some of those on the upper scale are nearly insane.

I don't worry about others casting aspersions because I'm secure in my own intellect and achievements. The problem becomes that there are those who feel they have the right to tell each of us what we must or must not do. Having a lifelong aversion to arbitrary authority, I will alway challenge such persons.

BB

Byker Bob said...

Many make mistaken generalities. Democrats and Republicans frequently call one another stupid simply based on partisanship.

Sweeping generalizations are a poignant example of oversimplification. Calling someone stupid immediately places them on the defensive. They've got to first address that issue to ensure that they are taken seriously.

We all know that there are people who are blessed with high powered IQs, and some who are barely functional. Some of lower intelligence have common sense and practicality, while some of those on the upper scale are nearly insane.

I don't worry about others casting aspersions because I'm secure in my own intellect and achievements. The problem becomes that there are those who feel they have the right to tell each of us what we must or must not do. Having a lifelong aversion to arbitrary authority, I will alway challenge such persons.

BB

Anonymous said...

"The science discussed here deals with material side of life. The religious issues under discussion are those dealing with a non-material side of life."

Please define "non-material side of life."

Paul R.

Anonymous said...

Paul said: Please define "non-material side of life."

In my way of thinking it is those things that deal with the thoughts, ideas, emotional feelings, communication, etc. that goes on inside our mind and makes us who we are. There is a strong probability that religion, music, and art fit into this category.

I know there are a lot of other things that could be defined as non-material if we want to argue over the many things that make the material body function, but my point was that issues here were dealing with material discoveries that support evolution and the issue of the existence of a non-material God. I believe that “spirit” is non-material, but it needs to redefined for some to understand my original comment.

Andrew said...

I do have to agree with Anon 3:17PM, because one of the things that helped keep me in religion was the fact that science doesn't really explain the beginnings of things in a satisfactory way.

In order to conclude that the universe to came into being merely through natural forces and principles, as scientists claim it must have done, requires the universe to violate every natural force and principle by which the universe has always been observed to operate. I really don't think there is any satisfactory model of theoretical physics that predicts the violation of the law of conservation of matter and energy, even in the most extreme of circumstances.

Scientists claim that single-celled life arose as soon as the crust of the earth was cool enough to permit it. However, the chances of life arising spontaneously by the random interaction of atoms and molecules is so small, that given everything we know about chemistry, biology, physics, and statistics, it is unreasonable to expect life to arisen yet on earth. It is science to observe empirically that it has arisen, but it is not science to say we have any idea how that happened. Remember that before you have a self-replicating organism, Darwinian processes cannot operate, only random chance. There may be some emergent property that causes life to arise spontaneously much quicker, but if there is, we have not discerned it. By normal scientific methods, unlikely outcomes are rejected, but in the case of life arising spontaneously, it is accepted anyway, which is not valid scientific conclusion. However given that acceptance, it should also be accepted by scientists that new simple forms of life are constantly arising all the time, and thus we should not expect a single family tree, but many family trees which arose at different times with different ancestors that spontaneously arose, with different ways of encoding genetic information, etc. But the evidence we have so far doesn't seem to support that either.

These conclusions are not really scientific conclusions, they are articles of faith that are stretched across enormous holes in scientific understanding. Scientists sort of sweep it under the rug and don't really notice, but religious people do notice it, and it really bothers some of them. I know it bothered me. The problem I have now is that I've woken up to recognize the many enormous holes of religion too.

One of the first assumptions of science made way back in the 17th or 18th centuries is that the natural world can be understood by the human mind. Well, I agree, sort of. I'm kind of resigned to the fact that in some areas, mankind still has not come up with any good explanations. With string theory conjecturing potentially extra dimensions and information theory suggesting potentially fewer of them, the truth of the universe seems to be straying further and further away from explanations that jive with our experience of it, so perhaps we might never be able to come up with a way to understand or explain some things.

Retired Prof said...

Andrew makes the intriguing statement that "Atheism is not an intellectually honest position to take, but agnosticism is."

Apparently, Andrew is using the same definitions of these two words that Joe Tkach, Jr. used: atheism is a belief that there is no god and agnosticism is a lack of belief either way. Those are the definitions I prefer too.

Making the definitions explicit seems worthwhile because some atheists have been trying to extend the definition of "atheist" to include agnostics--that is, anyone without a positive faith in god. The strategy is an apparent attempt to swell their ranks. I resent such attempts and maintain that I am agnostic; at the same time, certain caveats are in order.

My son, who has a philosophy degree, reminds me of this: since I run my life as if there is no god, I am a practicing atheist, no matter what my abstract intellectual stance may be. One point for my son.

Another thing. The potential god that I concede might exist is not the Judeo-Christian one. That one is so capricious and vengeful, the stories about him so inconsistent and fantastic, that I do not believe his existence is possible. In regard to that particular god (and the gods of all the other religions I know about) I am an atheist.

Now it is entirely possible that each of these religions has captured some aspects or or other of whatever the actual god is, but distorted others so wildly that the total package is completely unbelievable. It is entertaining to try to take scraps of these various gods and piece together one that satisfies me. However, what are the odds the composite captures the real thing? To my readers or listeners it would resemble Frankenstein's monster, as grotesque to them as the Judeo-Christian god is to me.

One scrap I particularly like is the Hasidic idea that G-d, as they write the name, is immanent: extending beyond the universe, but permeating and sustaining all parts of it. This deity is still continuously making that initial command, "Let there be light." If he ever stopped, the universe would wink out.

It is amusing to hypothesize that this god is the same thing as what scientists refer to as dark energy. Nobody knows exactly what that is, giving me free rein to spin a science fiction fantasy in which dark energy is an infinite and eternal field, analogous to a magnetic or electrical field. A quantum perturbation in that field is what gave rise to the Big Bang. This idea has the advantage of getting rid of the problem of "something from nothing." Something is a novel manifestation of a preexisting something. The reason objects in the universe are speeding away from everything else at an accelerating rate is that the perturbation in the dark energy field is now settling down and "falling back" to its ground state.

See, I warned you it might seem grotesque.

Notice that I exploited the creationist strategy contemptuously referred to as "the god of the gaps" by starting with an unexplained scientific question and then attributing the answer to god. I call this deity by his Greek name, Interstices.

Andrew said...

"Apparently, Andrew is using the same definitions of these two words that Joe Tkach, Jr. used: atheism is a belief that there is no god and agnosticism is a lack of belief either way. Those are the definitions I prefer too."

If my definition agrees with Joe Jr.'s it's because we both know a little Greek. They're just Greek words we stole.

A-theos, means no god, hence the definition of atheist ought to be one who expresses that he has positive knowledge that there is no god.

A-gnosis, means no knowledge, hence the definition of agnostic ought to be one who disavows positive knowledge altogether.

John said...

BB said: "Calling someone stupid immediately places them on the defensive. They've got to first address that issue to ensure that they are taken seriously."

Not to mention it's a form of "character assassination" or the ad hominem fallacy used to sidestep the issue.

Anonymous said...

No Joe, atheists are not the ones who have to prove anything. Atheists are making no claims that require proof, but only pointing out that there is no proof for the existence of gods. My favorite aphorism in this regard: "Atheism is a religion just like not collecting stamps is a hobby." Also science does address beginnings. Keep studying folks. That's the same advice I give myself. I want to keep learning even the stuff that's really hard to understand. I'm really pleased that people here are willing to discuss these topics. Most of us are ex-WCG. When would we have discussed these things with open minds and mutual respect during that time?

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed watching Robert Kuhn's PBS program "Closer To Truth." (Also available on the web.) I was struck by one of his concluding statements. He said that he really wants to believe in God, but that all of the "proofs" of God's existence are based on logical fallacies and he refuses to base belief on logical fallacies. First this forced me to learn what exactly are logical fallacies (Thanks, Google!), but I found the series otherwise somewhat difficult to follow as so many concepts presented are beyond my education. But I took this as a challenge and launched an effort to read a wider array of works from the scientific viewpoint. It's been most enlightening. There is more to scientific explanations of origins than I ever imagined.

Andrew said...

The scientific method says that the null hypothesis should be the starting assumption for every scientific inquiry. The null hypothesis is basically the assumption that nothing is happening, and then through experimentation the scientists comes to the place where he either rejects the null hypothesis or he fails to reject it. When it comes to the existence of god or gods, the null hypothesis would be the assumption that there aren't any until proven otherwise.

The religious person can say that the burden of proof is on the scientist to prove that God doesn't exist, and I suppose that's fine for them, because the religious person is typically not a scientist and is not speaking in a professional capacity. But this person is basically telling scientists how he thinks they aren't performing their job correctly. However, it is contrary to the scientific method for the scientist, acting in a professional capacity to begin by assuming a very specific alternative hypothesis, and then either reject or fail to reject this specific hypothesis. That's not how science is supposed to work, but most religious people don't understand how science is supposed to work.

What's more, it isn't really possible to compartmentalize. If you believe in a personal god in your private life, it's going to color your assumptions and expectations for the frontier of scientific knowledge in an unscientific way. Which is fine, I suppose, so long as you're not a scientist.

If we were to demand that this whole problem be rationalized, we would either have to rewrite the scientific method, or else we would have say that the burden of proof is on the religious to force the scientific establishment to reject their null hypothesis, and not the other way around.

Andrew said...

The scientific method says that the null hypothesis should be the starting assumption for every scientific inquiry. The null hypothesis is basically the assumption that nothing is happening, and then through experimentation the scientists comes to the place where he either rejects the null hypothesis or he fails to reject it. When it comes to the existence of god or gods, the null hypothesis would be the assumption that there aren't any until proven otherwise.

The religious person can say that the burden of proof is on the scientist to prove that God doesn't exist, and I suppose that's fine for them, because the religious person is typically not a scientist and is not speaking in a professional capacity. But this person is basically telling scientists how he thinks they aren't performing their job correctly. However, it is contrary to the scientific method for the scientist, acting in a professional capacity to begin by assuming a very specific alternative hypothesis, and then either reject or fail to reject this specific hypothesis. That's not how science is supposed to work, but most religious people don't understand how science is supposed to work.

What's more, it isn't really possible to compartmentalize. If you believe in a personal god in your private life, it's going to color your assumptions and expectations for the frontier of scientific knowledge in an unscientific way. Which is fine, I suppose, so long as you're not a scientist.

If we were to demand that this whole problem be rationalized, we would either have to rewrite the scientific method, or else we would have say that the burden of proof is on the religious to force the scientific establishment to reject their null hypothesis, and not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Also Joe is claiming that belief in a flat earth is a fable. Really? He points to a few ancients who knew that the earth was a sphere as his proof. But what did the average Middle Ages person believe? Weren't they surrounded by a wall of ignorance built and maintained by The Church? As a schoolboy I was taught that plenty of folk thought that Columbus was just going to sail off the edge of the Earth. Or was that a fable, too?

Anonymous said...

The idea that Columbus' crew mutinied because they all knew they were going to fall off the edge of the earth, that is THE fable isn't it? That's the only story I have ever heard recounted (ad infinitum) which seems to have convinced most in the 20th century to believe that it wasn't until recent times that we knew the shape of the earth.

By the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder was in a position to claim that all educated people agreed on the spherical shape of Earth. Still, for many different philosophical reasons, there were some people who continued to believe the earth was flat. During the Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. By the 14th century, belief in a flat earth among the educated was dead. By Copernicus' time, writing only twenty years after Columbus in 1514, he dismisses the idea of a flat Earth in a mere two sentences.

Where did this Columbus myth come from? None of it is supported by Columbus' own diary which he kept during the voyage. Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell says the flat earth error flourished most between 1870 and 1920. Russell claims no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat, and credits histories by John William Draper, Andrew Dickson White, and Washington Irving for popularizing the flat-earth myth.

It was Washington Irving's enduring story that only the voyages of Columbus finally convinced Europeans of his time that the Earth was not flat. In truth, no educated or influential member of medieval society believed the Earth to be flat. That people believe otherwise was listed in 1945 by the Historical Association (of Britain) as the second of 20 in a pamphlet on common errors about history.

Byker Bob said...

Throughout history, and this includes the recent past, many people have sought enlightenment, apparently to meet what they termed "spiritual needs" of themselves and others. Apparently a great number of people have seen themselves and others as either not being up to speed (living to their potential), or as somehow being out of sync with a number of dynamics.

This would seem to be indicative of a human need, shared by most of humanity. Belief or faith have been shown to be beneficial and therapeutic in the lives of humans. The belief that a superior being is not only accessible to humans, but also inspires moral imperatives which would elevate human behavior has kept many from indulging in toxic or criminal behavior for millennia.

We as a group have drawn many of our conclusions based on the behavior of those who have exploited, falsely assumed the authority of, and grossly misused the very concept of God. We tend to beat up on ourselves, and to wonder if we ourselves were stupid in accepting the abuse from WCG. In fact, we've all stated as much at one time or another. There are non-abusive forms of Christianity, forms that actually do enhance the quality of life, and of one's character. It is never stupid to believe and do good things for good reasons. It is also not stupid to tar and feather the toxic ones and to warn people against them. Most of us here have picked up the skill set to be able to make wise judgments as to who the toxic ones actually are!

BB

Retired Prof said...

Bob, what you say here about the ability "to make wise judgments as to who the toxic ones actually are" is a valuable note.

Though it seems to conflict with an interchange back a ways between you and an anonymous commenter about the ad hominem fallacy, the two perspectives can be reconciled.

In making a case for a viewpoint or point of fact in an exposition, it is truly a fallacy to say, "That statement can't be true. Look who said it: a stupid person." In the context of persuasion, a proposition must stand or fall on its own merits.

In choosing one's personal course of action, however, anyone would be remiss not to consider the source. Should you give money to a group purporting to collect for widows and orphans if they have a history of turning the money over to well-paid ministers? Should you neglect to plan for your future on the strength a prophesy of looming Armageddon if the prophet who gives the advice has been saying the same thing for the past fifty years?

In cases like these, a good dose of ad hominem rejection can save a person untold money, time, and heartache.